The latest throne speech had some very interesting ideas that will be coming up in the next legislative session. One of these is the introduction of absentee voting. This is an idea that is long-needed, and is a step closer for Bermuda to becoming an even more modern society. It is an idea that should be praised. However, it does not go far enough. From the throne speech, we find out that it will only be granted to students enrolled in accredited colleges and universities. There should be limits on absentee voting, there is no doubt about that. But this initial limit should highlight some concerns.
One of the arguments that I have seen is that these students should be allowed to vote because they still hold residence in Bermuda, while temporarily living abroad to complete their studies. Well what about young professionals that are also living abroad on temporary work visas, and have no citizen status in the country where they temporarily live? One may argue that we do not know if they will ever return so they should not have the right to absentee voting. But this argument falls apart when you really apply some critical thought. First, there is no guarantee that the students will ever return to Bermuda. Life happens, people marry citizens in the countries where they are living. People decide to pursue careers in other countries, instead of returning to the island. Who is to say that these students will return, especially those holding dual citizenship. I was once told, you can never prove intent. So you cannot say that the intent of every student is to return to Bermuda. Also, if a student is living abroad they are not a resident of Bermuda. They would have been granted temporary resident status in whatever country they are in. Just like a young professional on a work visa abroad has been granted temporary resident status. If you are going to still consider a student a continued resident of Bermuda because of their temporary status abroad, than young professionals, living abroad temporarily, should be afforded the same.
Then there are the Bermudians that have relocated abroad temporarily for technical or other short-term training. They are living abroad temporarily to better their lives and learn new skills or advance their careers. Why should they not have the right to vote in the country of their birth, thus ensuring that they direct the fate on some level, for a country that they may return to one day. Why are they not allowed to participate in a country where they may still have family, children and loved ones? For example, the government not too long ago sent people to learn butchering. If these persons were sent abroad by the government and an election was called, that same government would then tell them they do not have the right to absentee voting, and they would have to disrupt their studies and purchase their own airfare to return home to vote. Why is this group of students, ones that are trying their best to improve their lives, and may come back to Bermuda to make contributions to our society, also being disenfranchised?
Then there is another, more social-economic concern. Higher education costs money. Money that some do not have. If a Bermudian family is living abroad temporarily, but do not have the funds to send their child or children to college or they can only afford a short-term or technical training program that is not accredited, why are they being denied the right to vote on an absentee basis, but others with the financial means can? This starts to suspiciously look like classism. Is this the type of society that we are striving to have; one where money equates to privilege? I mean to be flatly honest, it already works that way, but are we to blatantly tell people, if you cannot afford college or university, you cannot vote. In the past, if you could not afford (or you were not allowed to own) land, you could not vote. Is this where we want to return, to that blatantly discriminatory era?
Of course opening the vote up for absentees needs controls. What about persons that have never lived in Bermuda, born to Bermudian parents, have dual citizenship, and are students. Are they allowed to vote on an absentee basis once they come of age to attend some affluent college? Is it right that this faceless person, who has never set foot on the island, and may never set foot on the island outside of vacation at their holiday home that is still in Bermuda, be allowed to vote? Should there be a time limit on how long someone can be abroad and still vote? Say up to five years or one voting term, since a person has left the island, before they need to reestablish physical residence in Bermuda, for a set period of time. Even the UK has a 15 year time limit. What should ours be?
If we are going to pass a law that allows absentee voting, all Bermudians should be afforded that right. The students at university, should have the right to vote. The people that are just overseas doing training as opposed to being at an accredited, higher education institution should have the right to vote. Young professionals, with or without dual citizenship, but are only living abroad temporarily should have the right to vote. And certainly those who can not afford college or university, but have opted for technical training or other short-term training should have the right to vote. Everyone should be given the right to absentee voting if they are temporarily abroad, within certain limits, but more than has been put forth in the Throne Speech. If the government is for all Bermudians, they need to be for all Bermudians.