Given the impact of Covid-19 on polling procedures and the number of questions and concerns already being raised, the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) should be far more proactive and responsive in communicating with the public.
It is incredible that the EBC has no current social media presence to keep the public informed and engaged on an ongoing basis. All general elections require massive public information campaigns given the fact that each brings a new generation of voters into the electoral fold. Even if Covid-19 does not necessitate procedural changes—which it will—the fact is that individuals and political parties are raising matters that require explanations and assurances from the EBC.
These include questions such as: will voters be required to wear masks or not? Will fingers be dipped into shared electoral ink and is this safe from the risk of viral transmission? Will there be special arrangements for at-risk and older persons? Will spaces be marked off to ensure social distancing of six feet? Are there special voting arrangements for quarantined persons? What if it rains? Will there be tents with social spacing or will people just huddle together with the risk of infection that would result? These are just a few of the questions, spoken and unspoken, that could affect the voting process and electoral outcome on August 10. The last thing the EBC and the country needs is confusion at the polls which could fuel distrust, spiral into legal challenges and disrupt the installation of the next government.
In addition to managing the electoral process efficiently and within the law, the EBC must recognise its responsibility to ensure that every voter is fully informed about what they can expect and what is expected of them come election day. From a public information perspective, there is no stupid question nor is it ever good enough to say that questions have already been answered. No matter how many times a question is asked, the EBC must be ready and prepared to answer.
One assumes that the EBC is also fully aware of the potential implications of the recent surge in new Covid-19 cases which is already unnerving the general public. Assuming no new dramatic developments emerge to prompt a last-minute postponement of the election or major polling day changes, the electorate will still have to be assured of the safety of leaving their homes to go out and cast their votes.
While political parties and candidates can be expected to do whatever they can to get the vote out, it is the responsibility of the EBC to ensure that the environment is conducive to voting. It is to be hoped, therefore, that given Covid-19 and rainy season complications, the EBC is already engaged in serious scenario planning with the Chief Medical Officer and his team and other agencies, including the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service.
The last thing Trinidad and Tobago needs is for the administrators of the election to leave loopholes that could result in the electoral outcome being challenged, either by public opinion or in law. This has become particularly important given the very real possibility that there may be no independent observers to provide a stamp of approval on Election 2020.