In Vanuatu, with its many isolated rural villages and lack of all-weather roads, it is often very difficult for goods and Government services to be accessed by remote Ni-Vanuatu communities. With recent unseasonal heavy rain, the task of delivering sealed ballot boxes, voting information, voting cards and electoral rolls over muddy, steep tracks and rugged terrain through thick bush for the recent By-Election was accomplished by the oldest form of transport – by foot.
The United States Postal Service has a very well-known motto that seems applicable: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”
However, it appears that sometimes, sheer determination and “shank’s pony” trumps modern technology. The team of determined Area Councillor and Polling Clerks had to trudge many kilometres down from the central ridges of Pentecost to reach Polling Stations on the coast and then turn around and go back up the ridges with the voting cards and results so that voters - even in the remotest locations - could have their voices heard and counted.
The UN Development Programme through the Vanuatu Electoral Environment Project (VEEP), co-funded by New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade (MFAT) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), is supporting the Government of Vanuatu through the Vanuatu Electoral Office (VEO) with state-of-the-art innovative electoral strategies such as Internet supported tablets loaded with election materials, National ID Cards and electoral rolls to improve the transparency, voter engagement and accessibility to election processes.
The recent By-Election in Pentecost saw a 47.3 percent voter turn-out, many using their new ID Cards. The election was won by Blaise Sumptoh Tabisurun of the Rural Development Party (RDP) with 2,756 votes. Former seat holder, Charlot Salwai Tabimasmas of the Reunification Movement for Change (RMC) secured 2,473 votes.
Joe Johnson Iati, Principal Electoral Officer (PEO) commented, “The use of our National ID Cards was a strong feature of this By-Election with Lessons Learned on the need to verify the voter’s new ID Cards with the Area Administrator who acts as the Registration Officer to ensure their ID Cards are on the Electoral Roll.”