‘Max’ Hurst says voter re-registration would be ‘wicked’

As debate continues to rage over a possible re-registration of voters, Antigua Labour Party (ALP) activist and Electoral Commissioner Lionel “Max” Hurst has said any such move on the part of the governing United Progressive Party (UPP) administration would be “illegal and wicked.”

Hurst, an ALP candidate in the 2004 elections turned electoral commissioner, has dismissed reports that the voters’ register is flawed, as UPP propaganda meant to disenfranchise non-nationals.

“What they have in mind is excluding Caricom nationals from voting,” Hurst said in an appearance on The Big Issues on OBSERVER Radio.

“This re-registration exercise is intended, especially in Rural East, to keep non-nationals off the list,” Hurst argued. “And they can’t afford it,” he said of the UPP. “It will cost between $30 and $40 million.”

The prospects of a re-registration exercise was a talking point that ratcheted up the totem pole in the wake of the March 31 High Court ruling that voided three seats held by the UPP.

With either by-elections or general elections possible, members in the public – and members of the UPP – have been asking on what list.

There are conflicting opinions on the integrity of the existing voters’ register.  Among other quarters, vociferous lament has come from immediate past chairman of the UPP Leon Chaku Symister, three-times UPP candidate for St John’s City West Senator Colin Derrick and from an electoral commissioner who was on the job in 2009, Bishop Ewing Dorsett.

Pleadings, from Electoral Commission Chairman Sir Gerald Watt and others that the claims are unfounded, have not quashed the reports or calls for a complete re-registration exercise.

“The people of Antigua & Barbuda would not want to go into an election with a flawed list. What we’d be doing is we’d be sitting down and waiting to go into an election with a list the Electoral Commission admits is flawed and then after the election someone goes to the court and says, ‘Judge, this was flawed,” Symister, a pannellist on the programme said.

But Hurst countered, pointing to an April 10 story by this newspaper, in which Sir Gerald said he would welcome the re-registration exercise only as a way to put to rest the unfounded allegations.

But Symister, who would not be moved, said, “I think it’s required. I am satisfied that no elections should be held in Antigua & Barbuda unless we have re-registration of voters.” He, however, refused to be pinned down on whether he was espousing the views of the UPP.

Asked about the issue last week after a rally in his disputed Rural West constituency, Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer was circumspect, saying only that all things are being considered.