BY ALEX DADAMU
IN the lead-up to the 2019 election, cross-border registration — that is, voters shifting their registration to a new constituency — emerged as a significant political phenomenon and a major topic of public commentary.
In a brief report launched in Honiara on Wednesday last week, highlighting the key findings that draw on data gathered in their final election observation, the Australian National University’s (ANU) Department of Pacific Affairs indicates the need to seal off the loopholes in the voters’ registration Act.
The report stated that the Electoral Act legitimizes a broad choice for voters, allowing them to register in their place of residence or in another location where they have, or can claim ancestral or customary links.
“The Solomon Islands Electoral Act 2018 states that voters are entitled to register in a constituency if they either live there or ‘if the person is entitled to be or is a member of a group, tribe or line indigenous to the constituency’.”
“There is clearly scope — on the part of voters and candidates alike — to abuse the provisions of the law. The level of cross-border registration in the lead up to the 2019 election was significant and, in some constituencies, remarkably high,” the report stressed.
The ANU report stated that equally for prospective candidates, the act appears to legitimize activities aimed at encouraging or facilitating voters switching their registration to a different constituency.
It further pointed out that neither population increase nor general population movement can account for the wide variation between individual constituencies.
“This strongly suggests that voters purposefully changed their place of registration before the 2019 election.
“Cementing cross-border registration as a feature of Solomon Islands’ electoral process would risk undermining the integrity, and popular confidence in the legitimacy, of that process,” the report warned.
The ANU report, however, stated that at the very least, Solomon Islanders and their elected representatives should debate the trend towards cross-border registration and its implications for their democracy.
The ANU’s Department of Pacific Affairs ran a large-scale election observation exercise in the Solomon Islands prior to, during and following national elections held on 3 April 2019.
Observations were conducted in 15 of Solomon Islands’ 50 constituencies by 90 observers, 77 of whom were Solomon Islanders.
The research comprised direct election observations and almost 5000 citizen surveys.