The majority of members of the House of Assembly announced during the debate of the Bill entitled, “Elections (Amendment) Act, 2019” that they do not think all of the changes that are advocated in the legislation should come into force during this election. In fact, most members were only in favor of electronic counting.
The debate was started by Opposition Member and At Large Representative, Hon. Archibald Christian who said that he is in favor of the changes as the system to be introduced would eliminate the extensive wait for elections result.
First District Representative, Hon. Andrew Fahie said that although he supports the machine, and all of the other changes; he disagrees with the timing of implementation.
“I am concerned about the timing and I will not be pressured even if the whole House is in favor.” Hon. Fahie told the House as he pointed out that the changes were suggested in a report that is years old. Hon. Fahie said a lot of public relations is now needed to relieve the concerns felt especially among seniors who are contemplating not going to the polls.
The First District Representative also said that some residents are afraid to speak out about the changes as people are meeting them in some hostile manners and telling them to sit down.
Leader of the Opposition Hon. Ronnie Skelton while noting that there are good things in the amendment of the Elections Act, suggested that though the legislation is approved at this sitting some of the changes should not be brought into force until the next election.
“People are concerned and democracy should make people feel comfortable sometimes especially if we could do it. So if we can count the ballot we need to define the system that would count the ballot,” Hon. Skelton said.
He said that bringing the full amendment into force now may cause tension in the Territory that may not be good for democracy.
Meanwhile, Third District Representative Hon. Julian Fraser said that he has not seen any reasons for concern with the system as it is. However, he said he understands the feelings of those concerned: “I could understand the apprehension people are having with electronic polling.” He said that a visual demonstration and education on the new voting system will help.”
Minister for Health and Social Development, Hon. Marlon Penn told the House that the implementation of the changes should have been done before: “This is something we should have done a long time ago. The Territory is ready for it, we need to advance in our processes; we need to advance in our democracy,” he said.
Deputy Premier and Minister for Natural Resources and Labour Dr. the Hon. Kedrick Pickering said that everything he has seen tells me the system is fool proof. “The system of electronic counting of votes doesn’t seem to have any issues of concerns,” he told the House.
However, Hon. Pickering said that thinks there should be a two phased approach and announced that he supports Hon. Skelton’s suggestion that there should be a dual approach with the Districts being manually counted and the At Large being counted electronically.
Premier Smith in wrapping up the debate admitted that the Bill is a complex legislation that perhaps should be done in a phased process.