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Should Vincentians in the diaspora be allowed to vote?

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Editor: Today at least 115 countries allow their citizens living abroad to vote. These include England, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and France. St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), of course, does not. However, in light of the debates surrounding granting honorary citizenship to the Garifuna and the ongoing efforts to purge more than 23,000 names from the voter rolls, two questions arise.{{more}}

First, why should Vincentians in the diaspora be stripped of this fundamental element of their citizenship? For, make no mistake, that is precisely what we do. Our laws do not permit absentee ballots, where Vincentians abroad can cast ballots in our elections while living abroad. And second, what is the benefit that countries such as England and the USA accrue from granting their citizens abroad the right to vote that SVG would also obtain if we instituted the same practice?

To the first question, the answers may be both political and technical. Some may argue that Vincentians abroad do not pay taxes at home and therefore should have no say in deciding issues of governance in SVG. They may also argue that decisions made by the Government do not directly affect Vincentians living abroad and hence make Vincentians in the diaspora less sensitive to the consequences of their ballot choices.

These political arguments lose force to a simple fact: Vincentians abroad send millions of dollars to SVG, without which SVG’s economic situation would be negatively impacted. Moreover many Vincentians abroad own homes in SVG. Indeed, both the ULP and the NDP regularly invite Vincentians in the diaspora to fund partisan and national projects, a clear statement that from the perspectives of the parties themselves, Vincentians abroad are clearly ­capable of distinguishing policy differences between the parties. This, of course, is unsurprising. Vincentians in the diaspora did not lose the capacity to think simply by going abroad. Indeed, their success abroad underscores their intellectual vibrancy.

The technical arguments against extending the vote to Vincentians abroad reside in the notion our electoral officers cannot guarantee access to all Vincentians or the security of their votes by virtue of the problem of distance. The quick answer to this, of course, is that we do not have to re-invent the wheel. We can and should examine how other countries have solved these problems and import and modify these models to suit the specificities of the Vincentian situation. Hence, whether expressed in technical or political terms, the arguments against extending the ballot to Vincentians living abroad ought to be re-considered.

What then is the answer to the second question: what are the benefits to be derived by allowing Vincentians abroad to fully participate in electing the Vincentian government? The first is this: that Vincentians everywhere would know and cherish the fact that wherever they might be, their claim on SVG is untrammelled, undisputed, and non-revocable. We would be their sanctuary of sanctuaries, an eternal home from which they can never be cast out. Vincentians abroad know that their citizenship in their adopted countries is always contingent. Their right to vote in SVG would certainly let them know that their citizenship rights in SVG would never be compromised.

From this then flows a plain truth: that many more Vincentians in the diaspora would choose to invest even more of their wealth earned abroad in SVG because in doing so they would be staking out their own share in the collective and protected patrimony bestowed on us as unqualified citizens of St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Garrie Michael Dennie

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