By Caribbean News Now contributor
ST GEORGE’S, Grenada -- The chief of the electoral observation mission from the Organization of American States (OAS), Ambassador Joshua Sears, of The Bahamas, and the Supervisor of Elections from Grenada’s Parliamentary Elections Office, Judy Benoit, have signed an agreement that establishes the terms and conditions for the electoral observation mission (EOM) that will observe the upcoming general elections in the country on February 19, 2013.
Between 1984 and 2013, the OAS has observed 39 elections in 13 countries in the Caribbean, including Grenada where, currently, the OAS is deploying the fourth EOM requested by the government.
The OAS/EOM, composed of 16 international observers from 11 different countries, (Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Belize, Barbados, Canada, Colombia, Guyana, The Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States and Venezuela) arrived in Grenada on February 11 and will stay in the country until February 21. These observers will be present in the country’s fifteen constituencies.
In the days following the election, the OAS/EOM will present its findings during a local press conference and will subsequently present a report to the OAS Permanent Council in Washington, DC. In order to keep the dialogue open with Grenadian authorities, the chief of mission will also present the final report of the findings and follow up on the recommendations produced with a view to promoting improvements to the electoral system.
Electoral observation missions are widely recognized as key political cooperation tools to help strengthen electoral processes in the hemisphere and promote democratic governance. Through these missions, the OAS observes the electoral cycle working with governmental authorities and citizens, in general, to ensure impartiality, transparency, and equity between the participants in the electoral process.
Meanwhile, Grenada’s Prime Minister Tillman Thomas has expressed appreciation to the Organization of American States (OAS), for its speedy response to his request, to provide technical support to validate and verify the integrity of the new voter registration system; to ensure that the upcoming general election is held in a clean, free, fair and transparent manner.
The technical team from the OAS visited Grenada during the period January 21 – February 1, 2013 and comprised two coordinators, two IT specialists, a statistics specialist and a legal specialist.
On completion of the two-week long mission the team submitted a report that concluded that “the introduction of biometric identification cards and an electronic voter database constitute significant improvements in voter security, relative to the processes that were previously in place. While the OAS team noted areas for improvement in terms of the technical capacity of internal information technology personnel as well as procedures for inter-institutional cooperation to update and cleanse the voters’ list, its verification of the electoral database by the OAS team indicated strong levels of accuracy and reliability.”
According to the report “the house-to-house survey on voter registration attested to the integrity of the voter registration database: in 98% of cases, there was almost perfect correspondence between the place of residence provided by the citizen and the constituency in which that citizen was registered. Among those surveyed who claimed to have registered to vote, 95% appeared on the most recent version of the electoral list.
Further, the report noted that “Grenada has significantly improved the legal framework governing the voter registration process. The 2011 Amendment to the Representation of the People Act provides for the establishment of a permanent, centralized and computerized voter registration system, and establishes a more stringent identification requirement; both of these reforms should lead to a more secure process that increases confidence among the populace. While the previous electoral code called for an enumeration exercise, and thus the creation of a new voters’ list, every five years, the 2011 Amendment grants significant discretion to electoral authorities in determining the need for and timing of future enumeration processes.
“This discretion facilitates the establishment of a voters list that can be continually updated, obviating the need for costly and time-consuming enumeration processes. At the same time, the legislation provides for checks and balances in terms of voter’s list data, guaranteeing parties and citizens sufficient oversight over the registration process. Nevertheless, the electoral code, which in many ways is still based on a paper voter registration system, would benefit from additional updating to cover the procedures associated with the new biometric process.
“The current voters’ list evidently represents a more accurate reflection of the voting population. The assessment of the OAS technical team is that the voter registration system in Grenada is generally robust. Grenadian authorities deserve recognition for implementing a new system, which constitutes real progress for the organization of clean and inclusive elections in the country.”