MP Peterson: Parliament changing Election Ordinance would be “rats minding the cheese”
PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten – Via a letter penned by Member of Parliament Melissa Gumbs, the Party for Progress faction in Parliament submitted a draft LB-HAM (national decree containing general measures) to Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs on Thursday, 23 February 2023, prior to leaving for the IPKO session. It forms part of the faction’s push to have the Kiesbesluit (Election Decree) amended in such a way that the curtain behind the voter is removed prior to the next Parliamentary election.
In the letter accompanying the draft LB-HAM, Gumbs cites the meeting of February 21st, 2023 of Parliament’s Ad-hoc Electoral Reform Committee, which met to discuss the original proposal sent to the Prime Minister in September 2022. Gumbs stated in the letter, and in the meeting, that although the Prime Minister did not need Parliament’s approval or blessing to remove the curtain, she found it important for the public to witness which members of Parliament would see the logic in the change.
“It is a public secret that voters can sell their vote by taking a picture of their cast ballot,” Gumbs stated, “often with their ID in the image as well. The curtain facilitates this by providing the voter cover where he or she can take out their phone and snap the required picture.”
The six committee members gathered expressed general agreement with the request to amend the Election Decree; MP George Pantophlet additionally expressed concerns over the lack of education for voters regarding the potential danger of selling their vote, and recommended that a program about this topic be devised for the public. MP Grisha Heyliger-Marten spoke of the phenomenon of the Bulgarian Train, which is the process of selling votes by way of casting a dummy ballot in order to receive a valid ballot. The train continues as one valid ballot sheet after another is claimed, sold and cast for the buyer’s candidate of choice. Heyliger-Marten’s suggestion on how to stop this particular vote-buying method was to change the color of the dummy ballot’s sheet, so it could be easily identified when a voter tried to cast it into the collection bin.
“Several of our colleagues had great suggestions for further reform steps regarding our election process,” PFP member of Parliament Raeyhon Peterson stated. “And naturally, some did not.”
Peterson was referring to a question from MP Rolando Brison, who asked why PFP had not aimed instead to change the actual Election Ordinance. Article 55 of the Election Ordinance contains an article that gives the Government the ability to set further rules regarding the layout of the polling stations via the tool of the LB-HAM (national decree containing general measures). Peterson strongly criticized the suggestion of changing the Election Ordinance in the way that Brison had suggested with the following remarks:
“What was just mentioned is exactly the problem I was talking about,” Peterson said. “Now we’re going to get a little bit technical, because it was the intention of the legislator back then to make sure that it is actually not Parliamentarians who dictate what a polling station looks like. You know why? Because that is the rat minding the cheese. That is us, right here, making sure that that polling station looks exactly how we want it to look so that we can do whatever we need. That is exactly why it was taken away from us as members of Parliament, which is coming from an Election Ordinance, which members of Parliament established.”
“Parliamentarians who actively promote (over-)legislation are a problem to not only the electoral system, but to our whole legal system as a democracy.”, Peterson states. “There is a clear system of separation of powers, the Trias Politica. Sint Maarten has one of the best codified legal systems, and the whole intention of delegation is so that not everything is regulated on a national ordinance level, to avoid Parliament and politics always getting involved when it comes to the executive side of government. And when you see these quickly drawn up initiatives actually be presented to the Council of Advice, and quickly shot down, this is actually the High Council of State doing their best to make sure our democracy does not end up in shambles via the actions of ourselves as individual Parliamentarians.”
Further concerns expressed by Brison and MP Christophe Emmanuel included the privacy of the voter, which Gumbs stated was already guaranteed by the 2-meter-high walls next to and in front of the voter. These walls are also regulated in the same Kiesbesluit article that PFP has asked the Prime Minister to consider changing. In the meeting, members were informed by Gumbs that Curacao, the Netherlands, Saba or St. Eustatius have already removed the curtain, regarding the voting booth setup. Gumbs had earlier stated that St. Maarten and Aruba remain the only two entities in the Kingdom with a curtain on the booth. The feedback received was “we should not look at others for what we do here.”
“I found it amusing to hear that we should not look at regional and international examples for safeguarding our electoral process,” Gumbs stated, “because in everything else, we like to look elsewhere, in particular at the United States of America. Well, there is no curtain used at their polling stations either. In fact, in some counties, voters are right next to each and separated only by those same walls I spoke of, albeit shorter ones. I was also disturbed to hear the integrity of the polling station workers called into question, as if they’re keenly observing voters and texting party representatives, instead of processing incoming voter after incoming voter. Fact is that there are no regulations, not local nor international, that dictate that a curtain is what guarantees privacy. That is a misconception that needs to be set straight.”
Concluding her letter to the Prime Minister, Gumbs explains that in consideration of public statements regarding a lack of capacity within Government, the PFP faction found it pertinent to have the draft amendment to the Kiesbesluit prepared. Should the Prime Minister agree with the draft, it can then be sent to Legal Affairs for further vetting and necessary changes; Gumbs suggested that the Finance Department also assess if there are any financial consequences to the amendment. It would then go through the remaining checks and balances via the Council of Ministers and the Council of Advice.