Proxy voting is not allowed in the local authority elections being held today (Thursday) despite a surge in coronavirus cases in the island which are causing hundreds to self-isolate.
The local elections, which were delayed twice due to problems arising from the coronavirus pandemic, are being held to determine the commissioners for the 21 boards on the island.
Due to a lack of candidates coming forward, ballots are only being held for seven of the 21 boards.
Voters in the wards of Castletown, Douglas North, Douglas East, Douglas Central, Lonan in Garff, Jurby, Onchan, Peel and Santon will head to the polls when they open at 8am.
Concerns had been raised about how current self-isolation rules may impact those wishing to vote in this week’s elections, but these were assuaged for many following the easing of contract-tracing rules last week, which allowed hundreds to leave isolation provided they were not experiencing symptoms of the virus.
However, those who are currently still quarantining will not be able to vote in the ballot unless they applied for an absent vote before the deadline - something which many will have been unable to do if they were only ordered to self-isolate in recent days.
Guidance issued by the Department of Infrastructure, which oversees local authorities, says: ’Legislation does not allow proxy voting in these local authority elections.
’If a voter did not apply for an absent vote before the deadline or is unable to attend a polling station on Thursday, July 22, due to self-isolation rules then they will not be able to vote.’
Douglas councillor Devon Watson announced on Twitter on Monday that he had had a positive result on a lateral flow test and thus was suspending his physical campaigning, saying he could not ’risk infecting anyone.’
As he is now in isolation, he will not be able to vote in the election which he is also standing in.
After announcing his positive result, he tweeted: ’If you are self-isolating you have no ability to go vote in upcoming elections.
’Very concerning if you can’t select who governs you because they have ordered you to stay in your home. This was entirely foreseeable and avoidable.’
The Manx Labour Party issued a statement on Tuesday saying: ’The Manx Labour Party would like it to be known that it considers the disenfranchising of hundreds and potentially thousands of voters in the local authority elections this Thursday due to a lack of Covid planning absolutely unacceptable.
’It is unfair and undemocratic to exclude the hundreds of people who have been told to isolate and to give them no option for exercising their rights.
’We as an island have known that Covid is an ongoing threat for 18 months now and when the border restrictions eased recently the government stated that cases would go up. Our government chose to call this election, and now have a duty to ensure it is able to go ahead safely and fairly.
’The right to vote within a fair and democratic society is sacrosanct and creating a situation where it would be illegal for people to exercise this right not only sets a dangerous precedent but creates a situation where the democratic legitimacy of the whole election can be brought into question.’
The Isle of Man Green Party says: ’By the direct consequence of decisions taken by the Council of Ministers of the Isle of Man Government in respect of mitigating the spread of Covid-19, the number of cases of Covid-19 in the Isle of Man is now rising at a rate double that in the United Kingdom (per head of population).
’In the new normal of life with Covid-19, this was an event that was a patently obvious possibility to occur, and, given that we are now 16 months on from the start of the outbreak, one that should have delivered the cogent planning and preparation by the Department of Infrastructure necessary to protect the human right of democracy as enshrined in Isle of Man law through the Human Rights Act 2001 [in Article 3: the right to free elections].’
During the final sitting of Tynwald before the general election on Tuesday, the Infrastructure Minister, Tim Baker, who confirmed the date of the contests two months ago, confirmed the DoI was looking at ’every possible option’ to help people vote ’safely and legally’.
He also downplayed claims the ’democratic process could be damaged’ in the local authority elections.
Advice from the Attorney General was that a change to absent voter regulations may be possible, but would be hard to do in short-time frame.
MHKs, including Clare Barber, argued for socially distanced voting for those in isolation - but this had not been implemented when the Independent went to press.
Tim Baker claimed that the issue is being ’taken extremely seriously’.
While watching the Tynwald proceedings on Tuesday (July 20), Mr Watson expressed his anger further, tweeting: ’DoI minister Tim Baker said "it’s not an issue" that many people are barred from voting [as] "Only 300 or so people will be affected."
’After I’m out of isolation I will spend every day working to see him lose his seat. Horrifying incompetence and negligence.’