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How will new electoral divisions look? Chief Elections Officer assures change is coming

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Posted: Tuesday, February 22, 2022. 5:19 pm CST.

(Pic Credit: Elections and Boundaries Department)

By Aaron Humes: It may be safe to say that most of us will be voting at different polling areas and stations than we are used to following the redistricting exercise.

At present Belize has 31 electoral divisions with, as of January, 186,893 registered voters. That works out to an average of nearly 6,029 voters per division – but some divisions are more equal than others.

The largest division by voting population, Stann Creek West, had 10,002 registered voters in January; the smallest, Fort George, had less than a fifth of that at 1,996. Stann Creek West has about 1 ¾ times more voters than its neighbor Dangriga at 5,661 – but only 688 voters more than the constituency of Belmopan at 9,314.

Fort George’s voters number just 5.6 percent of Belize City’s voting population – yet their vote carries the same weight as the City’s largest division, Lake Independence at 5,027 – 14.1 percent of the Old Capital’s voting population.

Statistics like the above are why Chief Elections Officer Josephine Tamai admits that Stann Creek West, which effectively covers all of the District except for Dangriga Town, outlying islands and the villages of Hope Creek and Sarawee, “will have to be cut down.”

But any suggestion of an increase or decrease in the number of divisions, she added, would have to wait till the Redistricting Task Force looks at all of the data. The guiding star is the Constitution’s pronouncement that divisions must have “as nearly as may be, an equal number of persons eligible to vote;” but there has to be information about how people can get to their polling stations and what geographic features may unite or divide divisions.

But how did things get to such a pass? The Chief Elections Officer points to continuous registration, transfer and natural movement of voters over the years as causes. But she also noted that in 2017, “at that time a decision was taken to conduct the redistricting exercise at first. There was a huge outcry from the public, even from the unions, because I remember – and I can’t speak for the Commission – but I remember attending meetings as well with some of the union members who were clamoring and they were saying ‘no, we do not want the redistricting exercise at this time; we want to have the re-registration first,’ and that was when a decision was taken to do the re-registration exercise first…”

It should be pointed out that at that point, re-registration had not been done since the first exercise in 1998 and was in fact postponed twice during that time span (by law it is due every ten years). Addressing the time span before that, she said, was in the lap of the Commission.

 

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