Election Day 2020 will take place in 37 days. The announcement came this morning just after ten o’clock from the Office of the Prime Minister. The date is set for Wednesday, November 11. For voters this means that you would have had to been registered at the Elections and Boundaries Department by September 11. With the Covid-19 pandemic still upon us the Elections and Boundaries Department is putting new protocols and voting processes in place to allow for social distancing and other measures. As a refresher we bring you an interview with the Chief Elections Officer, Jospehine Tamai, that we first aired on September 30. In the interview Tamai explains how the voting process will be carried out.
Josephine Tamai, Chief Elections Officer: “Persons will now go to the polling stations, they will be expected to allow themselves to be – their hands to be sanitized as they enter the polling stations, social distancing the six feet social distancing will be strictly adhered to. We know it is the law that persons are required to use a face mask again that will one of the things that will be strictly enforced. So persons going to the polling stations again I will repeat they must have their face mask, they must ensure that they keep their social distancing, upon entering the polling stations your hands will be fully sanitized we’re also asking persons not to take any unnecessary items with them that they will not need to use at the polling stations. When the persons enter the polling station we encourage persons to take their voters identification cards. The person will hold their identification cards themselves and announce their names. If they don’t possess an identification card they will just announced their name and one of the reasons being we don’t want for the elections staff to have to hold anything that is unnecessary unless there is some query then that is the only reason when the identification card will be brought a little bit closer to the presiding officer. One the person announces their name they will need to take off their masks briefly for approximately ten seconds because we must identify the person, who ever is there that that is the person who has presented him or herself for voting. Once that has been done the person will then be required to have his or her finger resanitized before dipping their finger into the electoral ink. So once that has been done that person will be provided with a ballot paper and a pencil, a sanitized pencil. The practice has been in the past that we have the pencils located behind the booth already but because of the COVID-19 and we want to ensure proper sanitization taking place you will now be given a pencil to take with you along with the ballot paper. That person will go behind the polling booths, mark their ballot paper and place their ballot paper in the ballot box and place the pencil in a separate container that we’ll have which will be marked “Used pencils” those pencils will be resanitized at intervals but before they’re given to any other elector. Priority will be given to persons who are disabled, the elderly and pregnant women those persons will be allowed to go to the front of the line because we know that those persons are more at risk. I will tell you that in communication with the Ministry of Health we have been informed that the risk is very very minimal if any at all in terms of persons coming out to vote because as long as your properly sanitize and you follow the protocols then it is basically safe. Belize is not the only country who will be doing an election during COVID time and we have seen that it has worked before and as long as people follow the protocols it will be safe for persons to come out and vote.”
With several quarantine centres filled with eligible voters our newsroom spoke with the Director of Health Services Dr Marvin Manzanero to see what his professional perspective is on having those in quarantine allowed to vote.
Dr.Marvin Manzanero, Director of Health Services: “If you’re asking me from the health standpoint whether that can happen I believe it can be accommodated just like you have any other normal process provided you make the necessary provisions. I think the recommendations we have made to Elections and Boundaries the two or three times we have spoken have followed for example what has happened in other Caribbean countries but also follow broad general recommendations for taking care of the officials who would conduct the elections and for ensuring that spread is not going to be happening after an election. I mean if we call follow the due process which is you going, you stand in line, you minimize- again if you’re not talking to anybody wearing your mask, keeping your physical distancing you should be able to have this properly done. So I’m going to go in and vote all I need to take is my voter’s ID go in, stand in line, vote and come back out and go back home. I don’t know that we will have time to have congregations of people in and around polling station I think that’s a game changer. We have made that recommendation in terms of how that would work and I think it can be done. Unless you are visibly symptomatic or visibly ill you know I don’t know that you should the be going to vote where there’s gonna be other persons. What provisions can be made? I guess the Elections and Boundaries will have to look at it but that would be the recommendation .We are only able to make recommendations from the health standpoint guided by science.”