Elections and technology
During the last general elections campaign, the decision by the then Opposition Democratic Labour Party to erect billboards at a number of sites around Barbados, without the permission of the Town and Country Planning Development Office, created more than a little stir.
It appeared then that the Dems were prepared to push the envelope, recognising that while an election campaign is typically no more than three weeks, the process that must be utilised by authorities to enforce planning regulations took much longer.
In essence, the billboards, under election laws would have constituted the kind of advertising that would have had to be removed by polling day — meaning any action by Town Planning would have been moot when the process reached that stage.
With fresh elections just around the corner, will the Dems, or the Barbados Labour Party, which rightfully condemned the action, try such a move again, knowing that authorities ought to be looking for such stunts, having been warned by the actions of last elections?
More importantly though, will such tactics be necessary? We believe that if the prospective candidates and the parties they represent are up to date on the technology, and recognise just how far behind our election laws are from reality, such law-breaking, archaic ploys will not even be given a second thought.
For one, Barbados has to be considered BlackBerry country, and any candidate who does not have one, if only for the purpose of communicating with potential electors during the campaign, must be just one step short of being a moron.
We do not believe there is a candidate who should not have a BB pin number for every voter in his constituency with a BlackBerry phone, along with an email address. There can’t be many voters left without one or the other or both.
Then there is the totally obsolete rules about election broadcast that are drafted around the operation of the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation, but with the other radio stations thrown in for good measure. Since the broadcasts are paid for by the state, no sensible party should fail to use them, but with the Internet providing the opportunity for every candidate, party — and even non candidates — to stream live with whatever message they choose, anyone who complains he can’t reach voters would have to be — dare we say it again, a moron.
And the candidate who can’t afford streaming, certainly ought by now to have a database of email addresses that would allow him or her to mail messages directly to every potential voter. With avenues such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube the possibilities are limitless for the thinking politicians and his or her handlers.
Just as important as advertising the place, time and speakers for political meetings, will be the advertising of Internet links to follow their events live. Voters no longer have to leave home to attend a public meeting.
But there are also other ways to push the envelope. How do the laws prohibiting public meetings, advertising and canvassing on election day fit into the new electronic environment? If a candidate chooses to send out an email blast or BB message reminding voters to head to the polling station and to vote for him or her, will that contravene laws that predate the technology?
Perhaps more importantly, since the technology is not limited by geographical boundaries, if the law is interpreted as restrictive here, if those same messages originated from domain addresses outside of the country can our laws be extended accordingly to embrace them?
Will a digital flyer mailed out on polling day be treated by the Electoral and Boundaries Commission like a flyer left on a light pole after 6 a.m. on the day of voting?
Given the high cost of paper, printing, distribution etc, and at the same time the multiple platforms presented by digital technology as significantly lower cost, juxtaposed against rules that never even contemplated such advances, candidates and parties will be limited only by their creativity.
Finally, a laptop computer or tablet in the hands of a candidate’s polling agents, equipped with the names of all persons on an interactive voter’s list, could be a most valuable tool in ensuring that every last eligible voter is reminded of his or her civic duty. A voter could be advised on the length of lines at the polling station, whether it is raining and so much more.
We can’t wait to see how the parties and candidates will exploit the technology and legislative void; as well as how authorities react for subsequent elections. We are willing to bet that the term election machinery will never mean the same thing in Barbados again.