WARNING: Don’t try this unless you have very deep pockets)

Many people still don’t believe that you can buy elections in Belize. They reason that the people of Belize have wised up: they take the man’s money and vote how they feel anyhow. That is true to a certain extent and especially for bona fide long term residents of a constituency.

But there is a new kind of voter that is increasingly populating voters’ lists all across the country. These are mercenaries – people who have no knowledge nor interest whatsoever in what is happening in the constituency, but who can be relied on to show up on Election Day for the $500.00 they will be paid – that is their ONLY motivation, and, rain or shine – or hurricane, you can count on these mercenaries to show up – and they vote for the politician who is paying.

Here’s how it works:

First of all, they have to get on the voters’ list. The politician, having foreknowledge of their political allegiance to the Party, entices them to transfer to his constituency during Transfer Period (July and August) or, if it is a new registrant from another division, he/she is enticed to register in the division of the politician who is doing the enticing. Now it is paramount that these persons have no knowledge, interest, nor connection with the division to which they are being enticed because, if they do, the possibility of them taking the money and voting conscience anyhow, becomes a factor – and the politician who is enticing cannot “afford” that. Now, enticement has been mentioned – but enticement here is not friendly persuasion. Most of these people have no good reason to transfer their vote or register elsewhere from where they live. But, like Courts – there is the Dollar Down! To transfer or register under the above scenario, however, the Dollar Down is more like $50.00 down, with the promise that on Convention or Election Day, the real pay-dirt will be flowing. Such a mercenary voter, along with the paying politician: both of them knowingly break the law by participating in illegal voter registration.

On Election Day, now, they are ferried from the far corners of the country, by boat, taxi, bus, private car, and even plane to the polling station where they are to vote. And they vote and (hopefully) collect their money. Some play “hawd fu get” a few days before the election and negotiate a much better price for their vote – but they will come because it is an all-expense paid trip with pocket money to spend and a sizable “cash prize” after they’ve done their dirty “duty.”

Once upon a time this practice was of minimal importance to an election – it was hard to get the politician to peel off $50.00. But the business has seen booming growth in the last fifteen years or so as politicians, desperate to win, have significantly upped the rewards for securing votes illegally. The trouble now is that a politician may be able to secure 200-300 persons like this on the voters’ list without the Elections and Boundaries Department having the slightest clue. And if he does, it is near impossible to beat such a politician when the votes of those who regularly support him are joined by the 200 or 300 mercenaries who are coming in to vote for money alone. Now at $500.00 a pop, 300 of these individuals would run up a bill of $150,000.00 and this is apart from all the other campaign and election day expenses, and the politician has to recover all that money – so if he wins, you know what he is spending his time doing. BUT HE IS LIKELY TO WIN in spite of the best efforts of his opponent – 11 of the 31 constituencies in the 2012 general election were won by fewer than 250 votes! So, if you think you might break even with the die-hards, to win convincingly you just have to make sure you get 200 or 300 mercenaries on your constituency roll and have the bank to bring them in on Election Day – from wherever they are!

Is this practice good for Belize? The question begs, why even ask it? But if this is so obviously bad for Belize, why isn’t more done to correct it? The Elections and Boundaries Department is the first line of defense against this assault – but their procedures (1) do not take into account the cunning of the modern politicians, and/or (2) do not have the financial and manpower resources to follow through and properly investigate, in particular, applications for transfer.

But the Elections and Boundaries Department may also be overlooking some simple measures that could make it a lot easier for those who would like to help to be watchdogs to curb this dangerous practice. For instance, 30-40 years ago most villages did not have names for their streets nor numbers on their houses – many still don’t! But when the Malaria Eradication folks wanted to wipe out malaria, they NUMBERED EVERY HOUSE IN EVERY VILLAGE so that they could identify them accurately to record spraying dates, inspection dates, infection loci uncovered, etc. if the Elections and Boundaries Department would number every house in every rural community and record the house number on the voters’ list, it would be much easier to pick out the mercenaries because neighbors would be able to vouch that no such person lives there. In villages, everybody knows everybody, yet on Election Day scores of people go to the polls who no one knows, except the politician and the villager who has allowed his/her residence to be used. There are some houses where as many as five of these mercenaries are illegally registered, but without access to the registration binders, it is nigh impossible to mount any serious challenge in this setting where there are no street names and no house numbers.

The Elections and Boundaries Department should set out immediately to initiate this simple reform measure. More next time on, the people who allow their houses to be used and other lines of defense against this practice, including legal action.