Registration as an elector is an indispensable requirement for voting in Parliamentary, Local Government and Tobago House of Assembly elections. Such registration is voluntary and there are no sanctions for failure to register. However if you are not a registered person in accordance with the provisions of the Representation of the People Act Chap. 2:01, you will not be able to exercise your franchise. You will therefore not be a partner in the democratic process. The Registration Rules of this piece of legislation lay down the process for registration. The Commission is required by law to publish annually on July 1st, an Annual List of Qualified Electors.
Article 25(b) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in its declaration states:
“Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any distinctions and without reasonable restrictions (b) and to vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballots, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors.”
To register, an applicant must visit the Registration Area Office or Sub-Office where he/she resides. Persons who are physically incapacitated can make a request to the Registration Officer of the Registration Area in which they reside to have the transaction effected at home in accordance with Registration Rule No.8(3).
System of Registration
The Registration Process is a simple but important one whereby qualified individuals can be registered. Registration is permanent, personal and voluntary and results in the issue of a National Identification Card. A National Identification Card or simply I.D. Card is one of the most commonly demanded form of personal identification. It is permanent in that once registered, the registration remains in force, subject to adjustment, e.g. change of name and/or address or unless there is valid cause for cancellation on the grounds of death or migration.
It should be noted, however, that the system itself may undergo change from time to time, and in such circumstances, the Commission may request all registered persons to re-register or to update their registration records.
The system is personal in that a prospective registrant must apply in person to the Registration Officer at one of the Commission’s Registration Area Office. No person can apply for registration on behalf of another person.
Registered persons whose names appear on the list of electors are entitled to vote in national elections using their ID Cards as the means of identification.
Such persons must be:
- Citizens of Trinidad and Tobago by Birth, Descent or Naturalization, or
- Commonwealth Citizens resident in Trinidad and Tobago within the meaning of Section 5(1) of the Immigration Act, Chapter 18:01,or
- Non-Commonwealth Citizens resident in Trinidad and Tobago.
An applicant for registration, for which persons of the age of fifteen years and over are eligible, must make application in person at the Registration Area Office for the district in which he resides. Once satisfied that the applicant qualifies to be registered, the Registering Officer will proceed to record the data obtained from the registrant on a legal form described as the Registration Record.
On completion, the registrant is requested to read over the contents, in order to confirm the accuracy of the data recorded.
On being registered, a person is placed in a polling division or registration unit, one of the smaller units into which a registration area is divided for administrative purposes. Each polling division is identified by a four digit number assigned by the Commission and plays a very important role in determining the electoral district or constituency in which the registrant will be able to vote when eligible to do so. The registration process is completed with the registrant being photographed and issued with an Acknowledgement of Application for Registration, which is required to be surrendered when the resulting Identification Card is being delivered.
Every registration effected is considered provisional until such time as various particulars supplied by the applicant are verified through a field check which is also used to verify, on the ground, the polling division in which the registrant should be properly placed. Once the verification process is satisfactorily completed, the data is then transmitted to the Commission’s database at its Head Office where the ID card is produced.
Persons registered in the 15-17 age bracket are not required to re-register as electors on attaining the age of 18 years, since the Registration Officer, on satisfying himself that a registered person on reaching that age is so eligible, will deem that person to be an elector who may vote in future elections.
Persons of age eighteen or over at the time of registration have their names included in the Commission’s register of electors. Persons of age fifteen but less than eighteen are entitled to be registered but their names are excluded from the list of electors. However they are entitled to receive ID cards.
The system also provides for the issue of a National Identification (ID) Card to a registrant as part of the process of registration. Identification Cards are issued in three (3) colours:
Blue lettering and background – Citizens of Trinidad and Tobago
Red lettering and background – Citizens of Commonwealth countries
Orange lettering and background – Citizens of non-commonwealth countries
These are specimen samples of the new National Identification card with the different colour lettering as stated above.
Facilities for Conducting Registration
(i) Establishment of Registration Areas/Polling Divisions
For the purpose of registration, Trinidad and Tobago is at present divided into nineteen (19) registration areas. These are divided into smaller units known as polling divisions to enable the registration process to be managed more effectively. In delineating the boundaries of polling divisions, due consideration is given to ensuring as far as possible that communities are not divided. As a consequence, the size of the electorate of polling divisions varies. Maps of registration areas showing the polling divisions into which each registration area is divided are prepared for use during the registration process. These are required by law and serve as aids to field investigators. Such maps are displayed in the respective registration area offices and sub-offices.
Polling Divisions are assigned distinguishing numbers by a system that uses progressions of five (5), i.e. Polling division No. 0005, 0010, etc. This system facilitates the numbering of new polling divisions which may be created where the size of the electorate of a polling division becomes too large to be managed effectively. A newly created polling division is assigned a number between the progression. For example, should the electorate of polling division 0005 become too large, the polling division is sub-divided and the newly created polling division is assigned the number 0006.
(ii) Establishment of Registration Offices and Sub-Offices
To service the nineteen (19) registration areas, fifteen (15) registration area offices and six (6) sub-offices have been established. Each registration office is staffed based on the size of the electorate of the registration area which it serves, and is headed by a Registration Officer.