The Free & Fair Election League is about to treat Antigua & Barbuda to the second installment of the latest stimulating political exercise to hit our politics-crazy two-island state of mind. The first round of the FF&EL’s simulated elections series, held throughout the month of September 2012, was a relatively primitive exercise. The 2013 edition builds on last year’s experiences, and the new, improved model promises to take the voters on a faster, more concentrated, much more exhilarating ride than we enjoyed last year.
The 2013 trip promises to take us further afield than before – this year’s electoral excursion will include the Sister Isle. Barbudans too, will share in the excitement formerly reserved only for voters on the “big” island. The speed with which the simulated elections project is evolving suggests that within an astonishingly short time the exercise will become an annual event that will rival the twice-yearly Mind of the Nation Poll.
As a means of gauging the direction and force of the political winds and tides, the FF&EL’s new simulated polling exercise will provide almost instant gratification. Last year, the voting took place on specific days over an extended period. The 2013 edition will take place over just four consecutive days – Thursday 12 through Sunday 15 September. The computer age has arrived for the FF&EL, so voting will be electronic. This means that the FF&EL will be able to release the results of the simulated election within minutes after the close of polling at 6pm on the final day.
Prospective voters will find polling booths at five well-chosen mainland locations: APUA near the East Bus Station, Christo’s on Old Parham Road, First Choice Supermarket on Anchorage Road, Epicurean Fine Foods on Friars Hill Road, and Bargain Center Supermarket at Perry Bay. Participants may cast their ballots from 8am to 6pm at these locations from Thursday through Saturday. On Sunday 15th the APUA and Christo’s polling stations will not operate, while voters on the Sister Isle will have their day to select the party and candidate of their choice. Polling in Barbuda will end at 4pm to allow the FF&EL staff to catch the flight back to Antigua.
The FF&EL intends to release the results of the simulated election to all media houses and agencies simultaneously, showing no special preference or favoritism toward any organization. For Yours Truly in particular, accustomed as I am to the ways of governments, political parties and even businesses that openly favor “friendly” media organizations, this promises to be a wholly refreshing experience. Prior to the start of the exercise, the FF&EL will brief the media on all aspects of the simulated election – including protocols to ensure that no interested news agency somehow finds itself “inadvertently” excluded from the process.
Voters opting to take part in the simulated election will have the opportunity to choose among four political parties that have agreed to be on the ballot. The Antigua & Barbuda Labour Party (ALP), the United Progressive Party (UPP), the New Patriotic Club (NPC) and the Antigua & Barbuda True Labour Party (ABTLP) have indicated that they will field some 56 candidates between them. This suggests that some parties will not contest all seventeen constituencies. Nominations closed August 31, but it is likely that a lone straggler will receive a “waiver” in the interest of inclusivity.
For those who may be wondering why the ballot will list the ABLP as the “ALP”, FF&EL secretary George ‘Rick’ James explains that the decision reduces the possibility of confusion in the mind of prospective voters. For that reason, also, parties will not be in alphabetical order. The ALP and the ABTLP will occupy spatially separated positions at the top and bottom of the ballot.
Persons wishing to take part may vote at any polling station. Once an individual gives his or her name and any photo ID, FF&EL staff will electronically verify their registration status against the current List of Electors. The List of Electors will also furnish each voter’s individual PIN number. Votes will then cast their ballots electronically. Arrangements are in train to permit blind or otherwise impaired electors to receive assistance in registering their choice. Electors may vote only once.
With a mere six months to go before general elections constitutionally due in March 2014 (some say April), the FF&EL simulated election will receive avid attention from all interested parties. The stage is virtually set, and all the major players have drawn their battle lines. There can be no doubt that the simulation will stimulate a great deal of discussion and debate – as well as interest – as the hours tick away to Decision Day, 2014.