Opinion: Curtains in our voting boothsPOSTED: 05/13/14 2:06 PM
Ah, yes, those curtains in our voting booths. What a hoot that is. DP faction leader Roy Marlin has proposed to remove them and the government is seriously considering it. By removing these curtains, it will become more difficult for voters to take a picture of their ballot unnoticed.
The idea behind this initiative is honorable. Politicians want to, or they say they want to, do something about election fraud. They want to prevent people from producing evidence of whom they voted for.
As the stemfie-ruling in the Netherlands showed last week, there is no legal basis to forbid citizens to take pictures of their ballots. That legal basis does not exist in St. Maarten either. That creates the rather unusual situation that our politicians want to control something that is not prohibited.
The rulebook for the elections (the so-called voting resolution or kiesreglement) describes in great detail what a voting booth ought to look like in article 12. This way we know that every polling station must have at least one voting booth for every 250 voters in its district.
Paragraph 2 states: “Every voting booth consists of two side panels, each at least one meter wide and two meters high. If the booth is not placed against a nontransparent part of a wall, the rear side of the booth will be covered. The top of the front will have curtains of a black nontransparent material, of which the reinforced bottom hangs down to the level of the desk, mentioned in paragraph 3.”
That desk has to be at least 1.20 meter high.
So what is the big deal here? The Voting Resolution has been established by national decree. This does not require approval from the parliament. The Council of Ministers could send any changes to the governor for approval. For all we know this has already happened.
But how will the Dutch court ruling that allows stemfies (photos taken by voters of their ballot, with or without their own image) affect this whole thing?
Given the fact that there is no legal basis to prohibit taking pictures in voting booths, voters might argue that taking away those black curtains is a violation of their privacy. It becomes even worse if other voters – or members of the staff at the polling station – could get a peekaboo at the way someone votes.
And then there is of course the mother of all questions. Why control something that is not prohibited? Should taking pictures in voting booths not first be prohibited by law, before taking any measures to control whether voters are actually doing this? And what consequences does the state have in mind for voters who don’t give a rat’s behind and cheerfully produce their stemfie on August 29? Is there any punishment? Or is this whole affair about removing black curtains – for the sake of transparency – nothing more than a ruse to give the electorate the false idea that something is being done about buying and selling votes.
The best way to get a handle on this thorny issue is to follow the money. Get a grip on the money parties and candidates spend during their election campaign. That will offer at least some insight in what we are talking about. Creative bookkeeping aside, this should stop politicians short of dumping fortunes into vote-buying schemes, because this will not go unnoticed. Removing the curtains on political spending will have more effect than harassing voters by taking away a part of their privacy when they cast their votes.