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Elections amid the COVID-19 pandemic

The upcoming general elections will be much different from what we have seen in previous years.  The Covid-19 regulations have forced the Elections and Boundaries Department to make significant changes in the way the entire process will be handled.  For starters, the usual political fanfare outside the hundred-yard line will be a no-no.  To get a comprehensive understanding of what the changes will be our newsroom spoke with Chief Elections Officer, Josephine Tamai.

The upcoming general elections will be much different from what we have seen in previous years.  The Covid-19 regulations have forced the Elections and Boundaries Department to make significant changes in the way the entire process will be handled.  For starters, the usual political fanfare outside the hundred-yard line will be a no-no.  To get a comprehensive understanding of what the changes will be our newsroom spoke with Chief Elections Officer, Josephine Tamai.

Josephine Tamai, Chief Elections Officer: “Outside of the polling station that is where the police will be the ones who will monitor what happens outside of the polling station. We know right now that people cannot congregate in more than ten, I can’t say at this point what will be the numbers if there will be any change at that time but whatever is in place at that time that is what the commission has agreed that will be maintained and the police will be there to ensure that whatever laws are in place that those laws are strictly adhered to. Based on the discussions that have been happening with commission whatever rules and regulations are in place at that time in terms of number of persons who can gather and what they can and cannot do those rules will apply for nomination day. I will tell you that one of the things that we’re looking for example I’ll use the Charles Bartlett Hyde building as an example where we would normally have nomination for Belize City and you know it’s several different constituencies what we’re doing this time around we’re identifying locations in the different constituencies so that nomination is spread across to avoid having so many persons in one location at any one time and it’s something similar that we’re doing in the other municipalities and the other areas as well in all constituencies to spread across. In regards to the media and one of the things that we are certain that we’ll need to ask is for the media houses to get together and decide who could cover what because definitely depending on the number we will not be able to have so many persons in the nomination centers because again the social distancing persons will have to be sanitized and I will emphasize that sanitation will be done at nomination centers throughout the day and also at the polling stations throughout the day as well.”

Reporter: Okay so that’s for nomination what about election day?

Josephine Tamai, Chief Elections Officer: “Election day it will be something similar. Well you know the media is not allowed within the hundred yards line that will still maintain. Actually even though we have the hundred yards line whenever we meet with the political parties we have to ensure that we don’t have persons even crowding up at the gates and again depending on the number of persons that are allowed to be out at that particular time it is something that we will have to ask persons to please ensure that they adhere to the rules and regulations because we want to ensure that we have a free, fair, credible and safe elections.”

According to Tamai the social distancing aspect of the regulation is crucial throughout the election.  In this vein there will be more political stations to allow for the spacing of voters in line.

Josephine Tamai, Chief Elections Officer: “What we’re looking at, each polling station at the close of polls will be converted to individual counting stations. So in that same room that polling occurs counting will be happening in that room and again one of the things that we’re working on we’re trying to cut down on the number of persons who are assigned to vote in a polling station to make it smaller because I won’t tell anybody that the process will be much faster because we have additional protocols that we must put in place but our aim is not to have people waiting for a very long time either so we want to have more polling station as much as we can based on the budget that we actually have and we want to ensure that people get the opportunity to cast their ballot in a safe environment as well.”

Reporter: In terms of elections on the consumption of alcohol well the last time I spoke to police commissioner he said he had been meeting with you and discussing these different regulations. Could you talk to me about changes in that regard?

Josephine Tamai, Chief Elections Officer: “Okay in that regard it’s basically- previously the law said that you cannot sell intoxicating liquor up until the close of polls which would have been six o’clock but now persons are not allowed to sell intoxicating liquor up until midnight so we’re trying to ensure that we don’t have prisons – and I know people will have the argument that people still buy the liquor before but at least it will cut down at some points and also we know that many times the police complain that because people are intoxicated they tend to remove their mask, they’re out without mask we have to ensure that people are safe. So we want to ensure that there are laws that actually in a place that cover the sale of liquor on that day.”