The electoral systems of the
Commonwealth Caribbean countries are established and governed by provisions made
in their Constitutions, as well as in laws enacted by their Parliaments and
regulations made under such laws on the authority of a Minister, Commission or
Committee or by an electoral official. While several of these provisions are
common to all or in some cases, some of the countries, there are others which
are peculiar to one or two countries. The arrangements are based variously on
prior consensus or compromise between government and opposition but in some
cases there were laid down by Governments against often strong and persistent
opposition from other political parties and interests.
elections are the bedrock of the democratic origins of governments in the region
but possession of the franchise is not treated as a matter of right in as far as
the lists of fundamental rights and freedoms are concerned. The constitution of
Belize includes a provision that “every citizen of Belize who has attained the
age of eighteen years and who satisfies the requirements of the Representation
of the People Ordinance 1978 shall have the right to vote” (S. 92:a). However
this provision is not stated in the section outlining the fundamental rights and
freedoms but in the section dealing with election provisions.
In the majority of cases the approach to the franchise taken in the constitutions is as follows:
Registration:“Every Commonwealth citizen of the age of eighteen years or upwards who possesses such qualifications relating to residence or domicile ... as Parliament may prescribe shall, unless he is disqualified by any law from registration as a voter for the purpose of electing a member of the House, be entitled to be registered as such a voter in accordance with the provisions of any law in that behalf and no other person may be registered”.
Voting: “Every person who is registered as a voter.., in any constituency shall, unless he is disqualified by any law from voting in that constituency in any election of members of the House, be entitled to so vote in accordance with the provisions of any law in that behalf’.
It should be noted however that arrangements for the
exercise of the franchise are somewhat differently stated in the constitutions
of four countries, viz Bahamas, Barbados, Guyana and Jamaica:
Bahamas: There is a general provision relating to
the composition of the House of Assembly which declares that its members shall
be “persons ... elected in any manner provided by any law in force in the
Barbados and Jamaica: Both countries apply
the same approach with the stipulation that any law providing for elections must
include provisions “designed to ensure that as far as practicable any person
qualified to vote has a reasonable opportunity of voting” (Barbados, S.42:2b,
Art. 59 provides that, subject to the provisions of Art. 159,
“every person may vote at an election if he is of the age of eighteen years or
upwards and is either a citizen of Guyana or a Commonwealth citizen domiciled
and resident in Guyana”. The relevant provisions of Art. 159 are that (a) no
person shall vote unless registered and (b) the requirement of domicile and
residency in Guyana (at least one year prior to registration) applies to
Commonwealth citizens who are not citizens of Guyana. (In this regard the vexed
question of overseas voting, now substantially curtailed, will be treated later
in this section).
Generally, it can be remarked that although the actual language of constitutional provisions for the exercise of the franchise is not as affirmative as it might be, the entitlement to the vote is in all cases further grounded in additional constitutional and statutory provisions for fixing the number of constituencies, regulating registration and voting and allowing access to the courts for contesting the validity of elections. However, there is one case, that of Barbados, in which the Constitution Commission was moved to recommend that the right to vote, seen to be in need of stronger protection, should be expressly mentioned, and entrenched, in that country’s Constitution.
There are two major responsibilities involved in the operation of the electoral systems of regional states, viz, (a) setting the numbers, sizes and boundaries of constituencies, and (b) registering voters and supervising elections. It should be kept in mind however that because of its adoption of a particular system of proportional representation for elections, there are no constituencies in Guyana.