Many persons have misinterpreted the primary intention of the recent court action brought by Christopher Ram concerning house-to-house registration. The case sought primarily to assert that house-to-house registration was unconstitutional and illegal because it would deregister persons who were previously on the official list of elections but not around to be registered.
I do not like to say that I told you so. But the fact of the matter is that 9 years ago this column argued that there was no residency requirement for registration. It also contended that the right to vote required the right to be registered as an elector.
These positions were taken to task by an eminent senor counsel who was then agitating for the right of overseas-based Guyanese to vote. The column made it clear that GECOM had no obligation to register overseas-based Guyanese and that the right to vote involved the right to first be registered, that is, if you were not ever registered, you would not be an elector and therefore could not vote.
The fact that persons have to provide a local address for the purposes of registration does not create a residency requirement for voting. The need for an address is necessary to facilitate the voting process: to allocate persons to polling stations, for the purposes of identification and to facilitate ease of voting on polling day.
The fact, therefore, that someone has to provide a local address when registering does not impose or create a residency requirement because, as is well-known, there are persons living overseas who are registered at local addresses because this is the only way in which they can be issued with a Guyanese identification card in order to transact business in Guyana.
It is my understanding, from the reports in the media, that the Chief Justice recently ruled that there is no residency requirement for someone to be on the official list of electors. This is exactly the position which was adopted by this column nine years ago.
Then it was argued that in Guyana there is a right to vote but it is not a fundamental right. The Constitution states at Article 59 that every person may vote at an election if he or she 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.
However this provision is conditioned by Article 159 which provides that no person shall vote unless he or she is registered as an elector. Thus while we may say there is a right of every Guyanese eighteen years or older to vote, there is equally a requirement that the person must first be registered as an elector.
It is only the Constitution which can limit eligibility for registration as an elector. And Article 159 provides for this in terms of persons who are of unsound mind, and those who within a specified time frame was found guilty of elections offenses.
Thus Article 59 read in conjunction with Article 159 can be interpreted as follows:
All Guyanese 18 years and over may vote at an election. But in order to vote the person must be registered and from that registration a list of electors is produced. Those persons on the list of electors can vote on polling day. This means that unless your name is on this list, you cannot turn up and demand your right to vote. Thus, the right to vote requires that your name first appears on the list of electors.
The election laws of Guyana provide that in order to be an elector, an eligible person must be registered. Thus if there is some Guyanese living overseas who wishes to vote at an election, that person must equally satisfy the eligibility of Article 159 and become registered.
While the Constitution provides that an adult Guyanese may vote, it also prescribes that the person must be an elector; and it is the election and registration laws which determine that an elector must be registered and placed on the voters’ list.
The right to vote is dependent on the duty to be registered as an elector. And once registered and not deceased, a person cannot be deregistered. Not until the Constitution is changed to provide otherwise.
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