There are several statutory obligations and deadlines that must be met as the process develops prior to the actual conduct of the poll on polling day. Outlined hereunder are some of the steps taken prior to an election.
The Commission is mandated by law to submit reports on the review of the boundaries for Parliamentary, Local Government, and Tobago House of Assembly elections within certain specified periods. Such Parliamentary reports are by law required to be submitted to the Prime Minister and to the Speaker of the House of Representatives; and, in respect of Local Government and Tobago House of Assembly elections, to the Minister responsible for Local Government.
Soon after such a report is submitted, the relevant Minister “…lays before the House of Representatives for its approval the draft of an Order by the President for giving effect, whether with or without modification, to the recommendations contained in the report….”
Once the draft is approved by Parliament, the relevant Minister submits it to the President who then makes an Order in terms of the draft “…and that Order shall come into force on such day as may be specified therein and, until revoked by a further Order made by the President shall have the force of law.” Such an Order by the President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, the draft thereof having been approved by resolution of the House of Representatives, shall not be enquired into in any court.
It is on the basis of such a Presidential Order that an election is held be it Local Government, Parliamentary or Tobago House of Assembly. The relevant report of the Commission which is generally the schedule to the order contains the basic parameters necessary for the holding of an election.
Prior to the issuing of writs of any election, the President may by proclamation declare a period of electoral registration
An Electoral Registration provides an eleventh-hour opportunity, as it were, for individuals to be registered or to have their registration status rectified before an upcoming election. It commences on the basis of a presidential proclamation which directs that the “… electoral registration “shall be conducted in the Registration Area Offices or the Temporary Registration Area Offices established in the electoral district in which the election is to be held.
The presidential proclamation specifies “… the election to which the proclamation relates, and (fixes) the date of commencement of an electoral registration.” The nine days of the electoral registration is the time during which registration activities relevant to the staging of an election are held, facilitating persons who have:-
- attained the age of 18 and over but who have not been registered as electors or,
- been registered as electors but changed their addresses and not yet notified the relevant registration officer of such change or,
- been registered as electors and changed their names because of marriage or otherwise, or
- been registered as electors but their names are not on the Preliminary List
“The ninth day after the date fixed as the date of commencement of an electoral registration is called the “qualifying date”. For example, if electoral registration commences on, say, 16th March 200x then the qualifying date is 25th March 200x. That is to say it is the day after registration for an electoral registration closes. And from the qualifying date to the date proclaimed by the President as the termination of an electoral registration, no registration transaction affecting the register of electors can be effected. It is important to note also that subject to the provisions of the Representation of the People Act (op. cit) “… a (registered) person is qualified to be an elector for an electoral district at a Parliamentary election, a Regional Corporation election or the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election, who on the qualifying date has resided in that electoral district for a period of at least two months preceding the qualifying date.”
Writs of Election
Soon after the date of an election is announced a Writ of Election issued under the seal of the President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is addressed to each Returning Officer. All Returning Officers are appointed by the Elections and Boundaries Commission. Very importantly, a Writ of Election fixes “… the date for the nomination of candidates and the date for the taking of the poll.”
Nomination Day is held on a date not less than fourteen days after the day of issue of the Writ (of election).
Election Day is generally a Monday, (though by custom and not law) shall be not less than twenty-one (21) days after nomination day. For example, if polling day is, say, 26th October 200x then nomination day is 5th October 200x.
Upon receipt of a Writ of Election a Returning Officer shall within two days thereafter and not less than twelve days before nomination day, publish in the official Gazette and in at least one daily newspaper an Election Notice. Also, copies of the notice are to be posted at the Returning Officer’s offices and at such other places in the electoral district as appropriate.
The Notice of Election of a member/members* for the Electoral District of ….. (Form No. 35 in the Prescribed Form Rules) indicates:
- the address of the office of the Returning Officer;
- the dates and hours of operations of the office;
- the date and time for the preliminary examination of nomination papers;
- the date and hours of operation for the nomination of candidates;
- the date and hours for the conduct of the poll;
- the date and time for the declaration of the results of the poll; and
- the date and time for a recount, if it is requested.
List of Electors
During an election year the Commission is obliged to publish four (4) types of List of Electors.
- The Annual List
- The Preliminary List
- The Revised List
- The Supplemental List
List of Special Electors
Persons deemed to be Special Electors cast their votes in accordance with certain provisions laid down in the Election Rules of the ROP (op. cit). An elector is eligible to be treated as a special elector if he or she is: Click to see full list and relevant criteria.
Nomination of Candidates
Any person seeking to be a candidate at an election must be nominated by at least six (6) persons who are registered electors and whose names appear on the list of electors for the electoral district in which the candidate is seeking nomination.
A person may seek nomination as a candidate for one electoral district only. Prospective candidates are required to complete the prescribed form, which may be presented to the returning officer for checking on the date fixed for the preliminary examination of all nomination papers i.e. the seventh day before nomination day. However, all nomination papers must be presented to the Returning Officer on nomination day for processing and validation.
The conditions for candidature for parliamentary elections are set out in Sections 47 and 48 of the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago, a summary of which is stated hereunder.
A nominee for parliamentary elections must:-
- be a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago 18 years of age and over; and
- have resided in Trinidad and Tobago for a period of two years immediately before the date of his nomination for election, or is domiciled and resident in the country on that date.
Conversely, no person will qualify to be elected as a member of the House of Representatives who:-
- is a citizen of a country, other than Trinidad and Tobago, having become such a citizen voluntarily, or is under a declaration of allegiance to such a country;
- is declared bankrupt;
- is mentally ill within the meaning of the Mental Health Act;
- is under sentence of death or serving a sentence of imprisonment in excess of 12 months;
- is responsible for conducting elections;
- is convicted of any electoral offence; and
- is not qualified to be registered as an elector under any law in force in Trinidad and Tobago
The qualifications and disqualifications with respect to candidature for Municipal Councils and the Tobago House of Assembly Elections are similar to those for Parliamentary Elections except that:-
- the candidate must qualify by residence or property ownership within the Municipality (Municipal Council Elections);
- the candidate must reside in Tobago (Tobago House of Assembly Elections)
No person will qualify as a candidate who
- has been debarred from the practice of his or her profession on account of any act including dishonesty; or
- has been surcharged to an amount exceeding $2,500.00 within five years of the date of elections.
On Nomination Day, the Returning Officer, having examined all nomination papers presented to him, and having found them to be valid, accepts the deposit and declares the nominee to be a candidate for the electoral district. The amount of the deposit is $5000.00 in the case of Parliamentary Elections and $2000.00 for Municipal Councils or Tobago House of Assembly Elections.
Establishment of Polling Stations and Issue of Poll Cards
The Commission through its staff and Returning Officers acting separately, conduct an inspection of buildings to determine their suitability for use as polling stations. The main criteria for selecting buildings/sites for use as polling stations are:-
- The safety of the building and its capacity for accommodating persons waiting to cast their vote;
- The building should preferably be public or community owned with adequate space and facilities to facilitate handicapped and elderly voters;
- The building should ideally be located within the electoral district and as far as practicable, in the polling division to which the polling stations relate.
Having selected the buildings for use as polling stations, and with the approval of the Commission, the Returning Officers must publish the information regarding the establishment of polling stations in the electoral districts in the legal ‘NOTICE OF TAKING POLL’.
This notice which is published in at least one (1) daily newspaper states the following:-
- the date of the election and hours during which the poll will be conducted;
- the polling station number, which is the same as that of the polling division it services, and the address of the polling station;
- information on candidates i.e. name, address, occupation and symbol.
Copies of the notice are posted at the office of the Returning Officer and at strategic locations in the electoral district. Copies are also made available to political parties, candidates and the media.
A vital document in the voting process is the poll card. It carries, in addition to identifying information on the elector, particulars such as the date of the election and the polling station location and is usually issued to electors prior to polling day. While ideally an elector should have the poll card in his possession when he goes to vote, he is not placed at a disadvantage if he fails to produce it, since one would be prepared for him at the polling station.
Polling Day Activities
Polling commences at 6:00 a.m. and closes at 6:00 p.m. However, all persons standing in the line at 6:00 p.m. are allowed to vote before the poll is declared closed. No person is permitted to join the line after 6:00 p.m.
The staff at a polling station comprises:-
- The Presiding Officer
- The Deputy Presiding Officer
- Two (2) Poll Clerks
- One Officer in charge of the Ballot Box
- Information Officer/s (where considered necessary).
The law provides for each candidate to have a polling agent (someone observing the proceeding on his behalf at each polling station.) The Presiding Officer is responsible for the operations of the polling station and may delegate assignments as warranted to ensure the smooth functioning of the station.
The law also identifies those persons, other than voters, who may enter a polling station. These include candidates and their agents, polling station staff, Commission Officials and the companions of physically incapacitated electors. All such authorized persons are required to make a declaration of secrecy before entering a polling station.
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