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Ashcroft joins redistricting case

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Posted: Tuesday, February 18, 2020. 6:40 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin has agreed to join Michael Ashcroft to the Belize PEACE Movement’s case for redistricting of electoral divisions following a ruling today.

His attorney, Senior Counsel Andrew Marshalleck, says that means he will file an affidavit and make submissions to the court as an interested party, as he has sufficient interest, per the Civil Procedure Rules, to be entered. If necessary he will also be cross-examined in person.

He will also be allowed to submit independent experts’ analysis for the court’s consideration in the case.

“This type of claim is not new or unique to Belize; it’s happened elsewhere – in fact, it’s ongoing in other parts of the world and there is a particular way of dealing with it. One, the expert studies the distribution, just as the Elections and Boundaries Commission should and determine whether or not the districts as drawn meet the Constitutional requirements. Once that analysis is done, then the next step is what needs to be done in order to bring it into compliance. Normally there is a range of possibilities, so it’s about presenting all of that so that everybody appreciates just how malapportioned the divisions are, and just what steps can be taken to correct it,” Marshalleck explained.

By Constitutional fiat the number of constituencies cannot be lower than 28, nor higher than 31. The Commission, the law states, must make divisions as “near equal as possible.” The current disparity is as much as 6,000 voters between Stann Creek West and Fort George in Belize City, and already there is talk that Belize City would lose some area representatives.

More equal divisions, attorney for lead claimant Frank Edward “Paco” Smith and his colleagues Arthur Saldivar says, means more equitable representation and less instances of having to seek campaign financing in less than desirable circumstances as shown by the recent case of Belmopan rep John Saldivar.

And one of the remedies being sought is a potential postponement, via injunction, of the general election to allow time for redistricting. The House must be dissolved at the end of its 5-year run on November 13, 2015, making the latest elections can be called February 13, 2021. But Saldivar told us that were the Commission not to do its job, no responsible court could allow elections that would be unconstitutional because of the unequal divisions now in place.

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