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Jan 28, 2003

All systems are go, says elections chief

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Ever since speculation began to build last month about the possibility that general elections might be called to coincide with the March fifth municipal voting, all eyes have turned to the chief elections officer, to see if she, and the system, could handle the added burden of double balloting. Today, in the aftermath of the date’s formal announcement, Myrtle Palacio broke her silence to tell the press, that all is well.

Myrtle Palacio, Chief Elections Officer

“Since 1999, we’ve been preparing for D-day. We are not anxious in the least bit, we are very confident.”

Janelle Chanona, Reporting

With March fifth 2003 set as the date for both the General and Municipal elections, the Elections and Boundaries Commission is making its final preparations. According to Chief Elections Officer, Myrtle Palacio, on that day, as many as one hundred and twenty thousand Belizeans will be eligible to go to the polls.

Myrtle Palacio

“We won’t be one hundred percent accurate in terms of omissions, but in terms of one on one, record card to persons on the list, I am quite sure of my list, and that makes me ready for any election at any event.”

But both politicians and independent analysts have expressed concerns that the double election whammy will confuse voters and result in a record number of rejected votes. Palacio says every measure will be taken to keep the process as simple as possible.

Myrtle Palacio

“You walk in, there is a poll clerk and a presiding officer. For general you’ll encounter those officers first and you announce your name as usual. If you have an ID card, you can present your ID card. The law says you can vote without an ID card. Your name is checked to see if it is on the list, the presiding officer pulls out a ballot paper, initials the ballot paper-that is very important, that the presiding officer initials the ballot paper-you dip your right index finger if you have a right hand, into the ink right up to the bone. That is the law.

You take your ballot paper, you go immediately to the booth for general elections and you vote for general elections. You deposit that ballot into the ballot box for general elections, which will be on the desk of the presiding officer for general elections. You go over to the Town Council presiding officer and poll clerk, which is right side by side, just may be divided by a rope or some other device. You go over to the municipal election and you proceed with the same manner. You announce your name, it is checked, you get your initialled ballot paper, you dip now with a different finger, and I’m proposing a different colour ink. For Town Council, you go an vote in the town council booth, you drop it in the Town Council or municipal, city Belmopan or Belize City and you exit.”

There is also a floor layout that will cover polling stations with only one-way in and out.

Myrtle Palacio

“I would say as a Belizean, that it’s underestimating Belize people. We have gone to Village Council elections in, I think it was 2001, where villagers were voting for a chair and member, and they were able to handle two ballots without any problems, and having two ballot boxes, one for chair, one for member without any voter education at all, no massive voter education; and we are going to be launching voter education.”

According to Palacio, about one third of the polling stations will cater to the double ballot. And to make sure things go smoothly, and quickly, the number of polling stations will be doubled.

Myrtle Palacio

“I am suggesting that we have a population of four to five hundred instead of the traditional seven hundred in a polling station, and the whole idea is to move quickly. A smaller group will be able to be served better and more efficiently. I’m also recommending that we have for the town section in particular, at least two booths, and for those areas that are large, then two also for general elections.”

The C.E.O. reiterates that these elections are separate events, simply held on the same day. As such, counting will be done at the same time for both elections.

Myrtle Palacio

“Belize City votes, all the boxes will go to the Belize City Centre for Town Council, and there’s a returning officer, election clerks and counting clerks to do that. For the divisions in Belize City-there are ten-those will count at the usual counting stations by the division. Albert in their counting station, Mesop in their counting station, and so on going separately. Counting will take place simultaneously, one won’t wait for the other.”

Come election day, over one thousand workers will be manning the polling station and overseeing the process. Updates from start to finish will also be available on the Elections and Boundaries website…

According to Palacio, the cut off date to register to vote in the municipal and general elections is February tenth. To qualify to register, you have to be eighteen years or older, a Belizean citizen and reside two months in the division. A voter can also be a Commonwealth citizen, resident in Belize for a year and live in the division for at least two months.

And in a correction to what we reported on yesterday’s newscast, the deposit for a candidate in the March fifth general election is two hundred dollars, and not five hundred. We apologise for the error.

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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