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Oct 16, 2020

COVID Positive Persons Won’t be Allowed to Vote

Dean Barrow

If you are eligible to vote and have tested positive for COVID-19 or have been required to self-isolate just before November eleventh, you will not be able to cast a vote in the general elections.  That announcement was made by Prime Minister Dean Barrow earlier today, despite an initial position taken by the Elections and Boundaries Department that all persons who show up at the respective polling stations will be allowed to participate in the exercise.  The decision comes amid concerns from the electorate that prohibiting them from voting due to illness is an infringement on their constitutional right. Attorneys tell News Five that there is no existing law to support that decision. Section Five of Chapter Nine of the Representation of the People’s Act lists the qualifications that allow persons to vote in the elections.  These include that the person must be a Belizean, a Commonwealth citizen residing in Belize for twelve months or more, must be eighteen years and over.  The Act also lists who is disqualified, but is silent about any infectious diseases.  In short, lawyers say there is nothing in the laws and the Quarantine Act to prevent persons infected with COVID-19 to vote.  In countries of the Commonwealth, such as Jamaica, elections have been held recently, during the pandemic, and there are ways through which patients can exercise their right to vote.  Today, PM Barrow said during a press conference that persons who are afflicted with the disease are legally required to remain in quarantine.  He also said that voting by proxy is already a cumbersome process which will not be opened for persons with coronavirus.

 

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“It can’t be permitted.  If you are COVID positive, you are supposed to be in quarantine either at a government facility or at your own home.  There’s no way we can get around that restriction which is a legal one, a mandatory one and if we were to try to change the law to make arrangements to accommodate COVID positive persons who wish to vote, not only would it be, I think, an extremely difficult logistical exercise, I suspect that the fears of those that are not positive, but who already have reservations or perhaps in two minds of whether they will exercise their franchise, those fears would become even more pronounced.  So while it is extremely regrettable that if you are COVID positive, in effect you are not able to exercise your franchise, we don’t see that it can be otherwise. Certainly proxies are out.  It’s already a hugely complicated, nightmarish system to administer, the proxy system which currently exists in terms of public officers, in terms of the security forces and their needing to vote by proxy.  I don’t see a trying to in fact extend that to COVID positive people.  How do you verify?  That is completely out of the question.  Now I understand the argument about the constitutional rights but remember no constitutional right is absolute.  You can derogate from constitutional rights on an emergency basis, that is why in the normal course, Belizeans have every right when they leave the country to come back in.  We are saying no, you can’t except you comply with certain things or you go into quarantine.  That is a derogation from what in pure form is their constitutional right.”

 

The main opposition party, the P.U.P., says it will be taking a position on that decision.


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