Michelle Russell hopes that as a result of last Monday’s landmark decision by the Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson allowing Commonwealth citizens to vote in the next general election that she will be added to the voters list in time to vote in the upcoming elections.
Russell, a Jamaican lawyer who has lived and worked in Barbados for the past 15 years, said while she believed progress was made with the decision, she was left with mixed feelings. “I was disappointed that we only got a declaratory order, since such orders have no coercive effect and only state what the law is. I can only hope that now that the court has ruled on the law that the Electoral Office will comply”.
Russell said after the ruling, which cemented their right to vote in the next General Election, she and colleague Sharon Edgecombe Miller from Montserrat, went to the Electoral & Boundaries Commission (EBC) to register.
Russell said: “We were able to fill out the form to apply to have our names added to the voters list. This represents progress as the other claimant in the matter, Mrs Shireene Ann Mathlin-Tulloch, had attempted to do so before the court action and was not even given the opportunity to fill out the form . . . . After we filled out the form we were told that someone will call us.”
“Since the ruling has been publicised I have been contacted by other Commonwealth citizens about the matter and many of them have also taken the step of visiting the Electoral Office to register to be added to the voters list. This is a step in the right direction as in previous years many Commonwealth citizens were denied the opportunity to register unless they were permanent residents, citizens or had immigrant status,” she added.
Russell explained that during the 2008 elections, after attending political meetings with Sharon, they both decided they wanted to vote.
That’s when she called the EBC to find out if her name was on the voters’ list. Russell said she was then told that her name was not on the list and that the list had already been finalised so that she could not be added. At the time both women felt they had waited too late and decided they would look forward to the next election.
When the next General Election rolled around in 2013, Russell called the electoral office.
This time she was told that she was not allowed to vote as the holder of the status of Caricom Skilled National. “I then reviewed the Representation of the People Act Cap 12 and noted that section 7 allowed Commonwealth citizens 18 years and older who resided in Barbados for 3 years or more to be eligible to be registered to vote.
“I called back the Electoral Office and quoted the legislation but was nonetheless advised that I could not be added to the voters list. As a skilled Caricom national, you can live and work indefinitely in any of the Caricom Islands who are party to the treaty. This is why I have never applied for citizenship.
By this time both women had sought out attorney at law Wilfred Abrahams indicating that there were a number of Caricom nationals in Barbados who wanted to participate in voting but were being turned away.
Determined this would not happen this time around, Russell started the process early knowing that elections would be coming around soon.
“In late October 2017, I called the Electoral Office and was advised that it was their policy that only persons with immigrant status, permanent residence or citizenship would be allowed to vote. Again I quoted Section 7 of the legislation which set out that Commonwealth citizens who resided in Barbados for three years or more were eligible to be added to the voters list. I was told I would have to write to the Chairman.
“Thereafter we learned that Mrs Shireene Mathlin Tulloch had filed an action in the courts after being denied her right to register to vote. Sharon and I joined in the action and we sought various orders from the court on behalf of all Commonwealth Citizens who had been denied the right to be registered to vote contrary to Barbados law.” (CM)