By Alita Singh
PHILIPSBURG–The fate of the country of St. Maarten, just two weeks shy of its sixth birthday, and its 59,800 plus residents from more than 115 countries lies in the hands of 22,302 people. Those voters, privileged by birth or naturalisation with the Dutch nationality, head to the polls today, Election Day, to cast their ballots for one of the 125 candidates across the slates of nine political parties.
The number of eligible voters may change this morning when the Court of First Instance hands down its decisions on several petitions filed by people with Dutch nationality who registered in the Civil Registry after the Voters Register was closed on June 11. Other decisions relate to prisoners who are registered at their home addresses, but are not able to vote at their assigned polling stations.
All 20 polling stations are open from 8:00am to 8:00pm. Overall results of the election and the names of the presumptive 15 Members of Parliament (MPs) should be available from the Central Voting Bureau after midnight depending on the swiftness of tally by polling-station personnel.
All voters are urged by Central Voting Bureau Chairman Jason Rogers and the police to head to the polls early and not wait until the last hour of polling. Voting early will aid in the smooth flow of traffic throughout the day and will positively impact the delivery of the results when polls close.
The “dry law” banning the sale of alcohol on Election Day is not in effect.
To earn the right to govern the country for the next four years without coalition partner(s), a political party will have to capture eight or more seats in Parliament. St. Maarten has been governed by coalitions since it became a country within the Dutch Kingdom on October 10, 2010. It is constant shifting of the majority in Parliament and the formation of a new coalition that has essentially sent voters back to the polls two years early.
The voter count represents an increase of 869 voters since 2014, when the voter number stood at 21,433. At the current total, the quota for a seat in the 15-member Parliament stands at 1,487 based on a 100 per cent turnout. The seat quota in 2014, based on actual voter turnout, was 967 votes per seat, compared to 917 votes in 2010.
The country will see one new MP at the very least. Second-term MP Johan “Janchi” Leonard of the United People’s (UP) party is retiring from politics. The other 14 MPs from UP (four), National Alliance (NA) (four), Democratic Party (DP) (one), United St. Maarten Party (US Party) (one) and four independents are all seeking re-election.
The official ballot has One St. Maarten People Party (OSPP) headed by former Island Councilman Leonard “Lenny” Priest as list #1; UP of Parliamentarian Theo Heyliger as list #2; US Party of MP Frans Richardson list #3; St. Maarten Development Movement (SDM) of facilities manager Benjamin Ortega as list #4; St. Maarten Christian Party (SMCP) of retired pastor Wycliffe Smith list #5; Helping Our People Excel (HOPE) of former radio personality Mercedes van der Waals-Wyatt list #6; People’s Progressive Alliance (PPA) of former Parliament Chairwoman Gracita Arrindell list #7; DP of Parliament Chairwoman Sarah Wescot-Williams list #8; and NA of Prime Minister William Marlin list #9.
Eligible voters must present a voting card and a valid form of identification (driver’s licence, identification card or Dutch passport) to polling stations officials to be able to cast their ballots.
The Civil Registry Department on Pond Island and at the Public Service Centre in Simpson Bay will be open today from 8:00am to 7:00pm solely for the collection of documents voters need to cast their ballots, such as ID cards and voters cards. No cash transaction will be conducted at either location on that day.
The voter’s card indicates the polling station to which the voter is assigned and he or she must cast his/her ballot there.
At the polling station, each voter will receive a ballot showing the slates of the nine parties. Each slate is in the party’s assigned colour: OSPP – purple, UP – green, US Party – blue, SDM – grey, SMCP – brown, HOPE – magenta, PPA – orange, DP – red and NA – white.
In the voting booth, the voter should locate the slate of his/her preferred party, identify the candidate of choice and use the red pencil to fill in the white circle next to the candidate’s name. The inside of only one circle should be coloured. No other mark is allowed on the ballot.
A ballot will be rendered invalid if a voter has not coloured any white circle – a blank ballot, coloured more than one white circle, filled in the circle with any other colour other than with the red pencil, if any addition or mark (text or drawing) is made on the ballot or if the ballot contains an indication of the voter’s names or initials.
If the voter makes a mistake on the ballot it should be returned to the chairperson of the polling station to request a new ballot. A new ballot will be provided to a voter only once. The ballot should be folded so no candidate’s name is visible and should be deposited in the ballot box.
Ballot boxes will be located in 20 voting districts: John Larmonie Centre – 986 assigned voters, Sundial School – 1,319, St. Maarten Senior Citizens Recreational Centre – 1,314, Sister Marie Laurence School – 1,487, Dutch Quarter Community Centre – 1,480, Milton Peters College – 1,441, Rupert Maynard Community Centre – 1,294, St. Maarten Academy – 1,500, Celebration Palace – 1,362, Raoul Illidge Sports Complex – 1,333, Charles Leopold Bell School – 1,287, Leonald Conner School – 865, Simpson Bay Sports Community Centre – 1,146, and Belvedere Community Centre – 1,391, Melford Hazel Sports and Recreational Centre – 1,424, Methodist Agogic Centre – 1,183, Justice Academy – 397, Seventh-Day Adventist School – 960, the prison – 67 and St. Martin’s Home – 66.
The electoral law calls for a polling station to have no more than 1,500 assigned voters.
The Council of Ministers has granted civil servants time off from work as of 3:00pm today “if service [to the public – Ed.] permits” to go cast their ballots.
The St. Maarten Bankers Association has announced that all banks will be open to the public until 12:30pm. Normal banking hours are to resume tomorrow, Tuesday.
As for time off to vote in general, based on Article 44 of the Voting Ordinance, eligible voters can cast their ballots from 8:00am to 8:00pm, a 12-hour period.
An employer, based on Article 45 of the same ordinance, is obligated to ensure employees can cast their ballots, but only insofar as the casting of the ballot is not possible outside of working hours and provided that employees will not be absent from work for more than two hours.
Therefore, an employee who works a regular eight-hour shift is, in principle, not entitled to any time off, as the employee can cast his/her ballot outside of working hours.
Voters who were born in the Dutch Kingdom account for the largest number of voters, a total of 13,030. That number includes people who were born when the Netherlands Antilles comprised six islands (11,816), those born in the Netherlands (1,191) and in Aruba after it obtained country status (23).
Of those voters in the Civil Registry who were born outside the modern-day Dutch Kingdom 9,272 were born in what used to be Dutch colonies. The remaining voters making up the 22,302 total were born elsewhere in the world.
Dutch nationality can be acquired primarily via the principle of “Jus sanguinis” – right of blood, from a Dutch parent, naturalisation and option – for people born to non-Dutch parents and raised legally in the kingdom.
Election Watch Night Association EWA will start its live telecast from Parliament Building on St. Maarten Cable TV Channel 120 at 8:00pm. The telecast will be hosted by Henry Lynch and Gina Bruney.
Two large TV screens will be placed on Cyrus Wathey Square for residents to follow the telecast.
Results will also be available via radio stations.
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/60483-it-s-election-day