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Apr 27, 2005

Machinery ready if elections are called

Story PictureThe educational forum had been scheduled from weeks ago, but with loud and persistent calls for new elections, today’s presentation by the Elections and Boundaries Department could not have been more appropriate.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting
After more than a year of extensive fieldwork, and the passage in the National Assembly, this morning the Elections and Boundaries Department made a presentation on the re-division of electoral boundaries in Belize.

According to Election and Boundaries, the only divisions that have not been changed are Caribbean Shores, Belize Rural South, Corozal South East, Corozal South West, Cayo West, Toledo East and Toledo West.

From the revised group, the most significant alteration occurred in the Cayo District, which gained two new divisions: Cayo North East and Belmopan. This takes the number of divisions from twenty-nine to thirty-one.

Chief Elections Officer Myrtle Palacio says the new boundaries reflect improved representation for the electorate.

Myrtle Palacio, Chief Elections Officer
?This is the first effort, and I think it can only be easier for another time at narrowing the gap in the electoral population between divisions. What has happened now, Belize District, which had a ratio of three to one, it is now one point three to one. It is nearly one to one. And in the whole country, which had a ratio of nearly five to one, the largest to smallest, it?s about one point seven to one, which is nearly one to one. It will not be perfect. It will not be perfect, especially with the culture of registration as it is.?

Noreen Fairweather, Principal Lands Information Officer says some of the challenges encountered by the team included the fact that the existing boundaries bisected communities, properties, and even homes.

Noreen Fairweather, Principal Lands Officer
?We had what we referred to as imaginary lines running through property boundaries. And while we had to in as many instances as we can, keep those communities in the divisions in the polling areas that they were, the challenges were making sure that we identified those boundaries, and actually mapping them without making major changes to the existing descriptions. We maintained the communities in divisions that they were, but at the same time changing the boundary to ensure that we use the natural features or the geographic features and also things like roads and rivers and so on.?

But given the fact that the size of a division?s population often fluctuates, Fairweather says no line was drawn with permanent ink.

Noreen Fairweather
?Obviously as time goes on we might have to make to provisions for changes, for an additional redistricting exercise, perhaps just to assign additional polling. But certainly because of demographics, because when you deal with boundaries, it?s not just boundaries, you are also dealing with people. So you have to take that into consideration and the movement of those people. And not only physical movement in terms of their residence, but movement in terms of transportation because in the constitution it does take into account that you have to consider when people go to polls, how they will get to the polling. You don?t want to disenfranchise anybody because they don?t have transportation to get to where they need to go.?

According to Elections and Boundaries, the adjustments will take effect at the next general elections.

And as the unionists and opposition continue to call for the government?s resignation, C.E.O. Myrtle Palacio says come early or not, her department is elections-ready.

Myrtle Palacio
?We are. We have backed up. Even though we are updating with the new law, we have backed up the old list, just in case. I have a plan B all the time. Because there can be a by-election, meaning when we went into elections in 2003, who would have thought we would have had a by-election in October. Okay, so in this office you have to be ready for any event.?

According to the Elections and Boundaries Commission, on May fifth, provisional registers will be published in all registration offices. Electors will then have ten days to rectify errors or object to any person on the list.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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