|Letter: No time for the sideline! Have you registered to vote?|
|Written by Sean Astwood|
|Thursday, 17 May 2012 10:14|
Suffrage (the right to vote) is not something that any of us should take lightly.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted unanimously by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. This document recognizes the integral role that transparent and open elections play in ensuring the fundamental right to participatory government. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Article 21 states:
I am amazed by the number of persons who have not registered to vote from the time the registration process began. Based on my conversations with persons who have not registered, I noted that the four main reasons given for not registering are: (1) a belief that the registration process would take too long and they simply could not risk their jobs by taking more than their authorized lunch break; (2) some persons were not sure whether they were considered a Belonger for various extenuating circumstances; (3)some Belongers do not have any money to obtain original birth certificates, especially in cases where up to three birth certificates are required; and (4) a few persons were disenchanted with their respective political parties and figured that no one was deserving of their vote.
The registration process takes 10 minutes or less based on my experience, and others that have shared their experience with me. It was a pleasant surprise to see how organized the process is and how helpful the staff in the elections office is. However, if persons wait until the deadline to register, the process could take much longer as lines would normally get longer as the deadline approaches. I recommend anyone who is not yet registered should set aside 10-20 minutes out of their day and get registered.
If you are unsure of your Belonger status, the elections office has published detailed charts which can assist you with determining your status. The personnel in the elections office are also quite knowledgeable in this area and should be able to assist you. Therefore, there is no reason to wonder whether you are eligible to register. Either review the detailed charts that have been published or stop by the elections office to confirm your eligibility.
In these hard economic times, $20 for a birth certificate, the temporarily reduced cost, may be difficult to come by; however, having a say in your future is worth the sacrifice. We have heard calls to local radio talk shows, and letters to the local newspapers demanding our democratic right to vote to be restored and protests to ensure our franchise is protected. However, if we fail to register, what is the purpose of these actions or of asking for elections.
The price of freedom to choose is not always free. We have an opportunity to shape the future of these islands, to select a government that shares our values, that recognizes our needs, that knows how to stimulate the economy and protect the future and heritage of upcoming generations. We have to decide whether the cost of a birth certificate, the uncertainty of your status or the frustration that might be experience should deter us from being a part of the process or an observer from the sidelines. I chose to be a part of the process. Please join me.
The Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) made an official request for the interim administration to waive the birth certificate fee for the voter’s registration process. After all, the birth certificates are only being used for verification purposes. The interim government has access to the birth certificates and marriage certificates. All they have to do is locate staff to verify the information as recorded on the elections form.
I believe that persons at age 70 and older are not required to pay for their birth certificate, so those persons should be registered. This also reduces cost related to the number of birth certificates a child of persons in this age group would have to pay. Whether or not the fee is waived, I encourage everyone to look at the cost of the birth certificate more as an investment in our future.
The decision to register to vote should not be determined by which political party you support but rather the recognition that your vote is in fact your voice in the political process and registering is the first step in exercising that right. I believe these last few years under the interim administration have given us an opportunity to prioritize our needs as a country. It has also given us an opportunity to appreciate our power as voters. Our power does not end in electing a government. Our power lies in ensuring that the elected government is working in the best interest of our country.
Registering to vote but also puts the future leaders on notice on the level of representation we expect. As a mature and educated electorate, we need to become more involved in the electoral process, whether that is becoming involved in your party at a introductory level or helping to shape its vision. If you are an independent voter, use this time to get familiar with the history of the parties involved and the vision they have for this country moving forward. Maybe your input will help shape the future of that party and the country by extension. There is no reason your feelings for or about a political party should make you set aside your right to vote.
The PDM recognizes it shares the responsibility to ensure that every citizen of this country is given the opportunity to exercise their right to vote. Therefore, a decision has been taken that our headquarters in Providenciales will be open throughout the remainder of the voter registration process to assist anyone needing help with their registration. Our branches in the other islands have already begun actively assisting persons with queries about the process.
For those Belongers who are still unregistered for the reasons noted above or for any other reason, my advice to you is do not stand on the sideline! The next general election will be one of the most critical elections is the history of our country. Every Belonger who is old enough to vote should exercise their right to vote. How will history remember you? How will you help shape the future of our country?
We are all accountable for the direction of this country. It is not enough to sit on the sidelines and be an observer. Register Turks and Caicos — your country needs you now more than ever!
Astwood is a former deputy leader of the PDM and a former minister of Natural Resources.
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