The Electoral Observation Mission (EOM) of the Organization of American States (OAS) on Tuesday congratulated St. Lucians for their “strong civic commitment, which was amply displayed,” during the Advanced Poll on July 23 and on Election Day, July 26.
The mission, which was led by the Secretary for Access to Rights and Equity of the OAS General Secretariat, Maricarmen Plata, comprised 12 experts from 10 countries — all of whom were present in the country.
In its preliminary statement, the mission said that, on Jul 23, members observed the conduct of the Advanced Poll for members of the police force, the correctional facility, fire service officers, election officials and poll workers, patients at three hospitals and persons at two care facilities.
On Election Day, the team said it was present in all 17 of the country’s constituencies and observed the conduct of the poll from the opening of polling stations, through to the counting of ballots and the transmission of results.
The mission’s experts also analyzed relevant electoral legislation, regulations, processes and procedures to ensure a full understanding of the current context.
The Voters’ List for the 2021 General Elections (civilians and police electors), which was published on July 13, 2021, contained 174,270 electors — “a number that is very high in relation to the estimated population of St. Lucia (184,000 approximately),” the mission said.
It said it was informed that the base list, on which the current Voters’ List is built, dates back to 1979, and that while new registrants are verified and added to the list on an ongoing basis, there are limited mechanisms to remove the names of persons who have died, who have been absent from St. Lucia for a continuous period of five years or more, or who have become otherwise disqualified for registration.
On Jul. 23, the mission said it observed the conduct of the Advanced Poll for members of the police force and other uniformed services, election officials and poll workers, and persons in hospitals and care facilities.
According to the Electoral Commission, 3,650 persons or 59.39 percent of 6,145 eligible voters, cast their ballots at 27 locations across the country on that day.
“While there were very long lines and extended wait times in different locations during the day, and while the OAS Mission heard some complaints in this regard, voters generally waited patiently to exercise their franchise,” the report says. “The mission commends the electoral authorities, including the poll workers, supervisory personnel and police officers who facilitated the conduct of the voting process on that day.”
The mission said it noted some challenges in the use of the verification system in one location during the Advanced Poll due to poor internet connectivity.
It said the Electoral Commission advised that the issue had occurred only in the location observed by the mission, and advised of steps that had been taken to prevent an occurrence of similar issues on Election Day, including the use of the paper poll book.
On Election Day, the mission said members visited 227 polling stations in 64 polling divisions and that the process was conducted in “a well-organized and generally peaceful manner.”
The mission said that although Assistant Poll Clerks were present at all locations to assist and guide voters, OAS observers noted that some electors still experienced difficulties in identifying their assigned polling stations, “due in part to a lack of adequate signage.”
The OAS Mission said, while the Boundaries Commission unanimously recommended the creation of four new constituencies in 2014, and these changes were approved by the parliament, “they have not been implemented pending the resolution of an injunction against the realignment filed in the courts.”
The mission said that, over the last 20 years, the population of St. Lucia has grown and that internal migration has “created an imbalance in the distribution of electors across the country.”
It said that while the two largest constituencies, Gros-Islet and Castries South East, comprise 23,431 and 14,858 enrolled electors, respectively, the two smallest, Vieux Fort North and Dennery South, comprise 6,883 and 5,266 electors.
In order to ensure an accurate Voters’ List, the mission recommended amending the Elections Act to provide for the conduct of a full house-to-house enumeration exercise to replace the Voters’ List in existence and thereafter allow for periodic re-verification of the list.
The mission also recommended amending electors’ registration regulations and deceased elector confirmation procedures to ensure their identification and removal from the list.
In addition, it called for collaboration and data-sharing between the Offices of the Chief Elections Officer, the Civil Registrar and the Immigration Department “to better coordinate the information required to update the Voters’ List, including development of formats for submission, the use of a unique identifier, and agreement on the frequency and method of submission.”
The mission urged the identification of other institutions that may be in possession of information on migrants or deceased persons.
The mission recommended reinforcing communication campaigns aimed at informing citizens of changes in the location of polling stations.
It said political parties can assist in this task by directly communicating the changes to their affiliates and supporters.
The mission wants all polling stations to receive and post “clear signage indicating their number and alphabetical split, as well as information regarding voting procedures, to ensure that voters are properly guided when accessing the polls.”
The mission also called for evaluation of the arrangement of polling stations and addition of a second voting booth to expedite the voting process, “while ensuring that this change does not compromise the secrecy of the vote.”
It recommended formalizing and enforcing of policies “to ensure access to and expedite the voting process for pregnant women, women with young children, the elderly and people with disabilities,” and the education of all electors on the right of these persons to be prioritized and receive support in the voting process where needed.
The mission recommended that the Voter Verification system, as well as the technological ecosystem to be used, is subjected to “extensive testing prior to Election Day, in order to detect and diagnose performance issues as well as guarantee ongoing and stable connectivity.”
Additionally, the mission called for the implementation of an Incident Management System to track connectivity and performance issues that arise on Election Day and “quickly expedite action measures to resolve them.”
In order to strengthen the security and performance of the system, the mission recommended, among other things, implementation of a software freeze mechanism for all applications before they are migrated to a production environment, ensuring there are no changes to the source code or related resources and that any changes, either malicious or unintentional, are detected.
The mission recommended establishing direct or indirect public financing for political parties and campaigns, including state subsidies for media access; establishing limits on private donations and in-kind contributions from individuals, businesses, and the media, and prohibiting anonymous donations and contributions from foreign sources; creating legal standards and practices for recording, managing and reporting political party contributions and expenditures; establishing political financing oversight measures and mechanisms, as well as penalties for non-compliance; and creating mechanisms that increase access to information regarding the financing of political parties.
In order to ensure equal representation in decision-making positions, the OAS Mission recommended implementing an “effective gender quota mechanism in order to progressively adopt parity measures and thus level the playing field for women in elections.”
The main opposition St. Lucia Labor Party (SLP) won the general elections on Monday, rejecting the Allen Chastanet United Workers Party (UWP) administration after only a five-year term in office.
In addition, voters created history in the Caribbean by electing two independent candidates to the 17-member Parliament, among them being the former prime minister, Stephenson King, who quit the incumbent UWP to contest the Castries North constituency, which he has been representing for nearly three decades.
Preliminary results indicated that the SLP won 13 seats; the UWP won two seats; and independents King and Richard Frederick shared the remaining two seats.
The UWP had beaten the SLP 11-6 in the 2016 general elections.
SLP leader and new Prime Minister Phillip J. Pierre, speaking on Choice TV, said that he was “elated” thanking also his supporters in Castries East, who ensured that he won the seat for the sixth consecutive occasion, defeating Fortuna Belrose.
“Here we are, we have won the government, and I intend to be a government for the entire country – a government of inclusion, a government that will listen to people, a government of tolerance,” he said. “And we are hoping to take this country all the way from the division and conflict it is in now.”