Three things to watch on election day

  • Close call: the OBA’s Nandi Outerbridge won St George’s West by only four votes in 2012 (File photograph)

On July 18, the vast majority of people will have made up their minds on how they plan to vote before they set foot in the voting booth. But as the United States presidential election showed, what happens on election day still matters. Here are three things to watch on the day itself:

Turnout: The key on election day is turning out the vote. The decision of many Progressive Labour Party supporters not to vote in 2012 was seen as crucial, and whether the parties can energise their base supporters will be a determining factor this time as well.

According to the Parliamentary Registrar, some 4,100 people were added to the voter rolls between 2012 and now, which suggests the number of votes cast will be higher than it was in 2012. One “known unknown” is how many registered voters are resident in Bermuda. If there has been a high level of emigration, as is often claimed, it may be that many of those emigrants are still registered. The question is whether they will return to vote. The other “known unknown” is where Permanent Resident’s Certificate holders who now have status live. If enough live in swing constituencies, that could be a crucial deciding factor.

Swing voters and key constituencies: Where new voters live is crucial because, regardless of the popular vote, Bermuda elections are decided by a very small number of people. Neither major party has polled under 45 per cent of the vote in recent memory, so the election is decided by about 10 per cent of voters, or perhaps 4,000 people. The vast majority of these voters tend to be black, middle-class voters.

Of that number, the number of voters who determine the number of seats each party holds in the House is even smaller.

In 2012, the One Bermuda Alliance won the two seats it needed to form a majority by four and ten votes respectively, and the five closest constituency races were decided by a total of only 47 votes. Of those five, three went to the PLP and two went to the OBA. If just 24 of those voters had changed their minds — because a changed vote means one candidate gains a vote and the other candidate loses a vote — the election result could have been an OBA victory of 22 seats to 14 PLP seats, or a PLP victory of 19 seats to 17 OBA seats.

The closest constituencies to look out for are:

• St George’s West, where the OBA’s Nandi Outerbridge won by only four votes and PLP candidate Kim Swan, running then as an independent, received 214 votes — whether those voters will follow Swan to the PLP, for whom he is now running, will likely determine this seat

• Devonshire North Central, where the PLP’s Glenn Blakeney won by 19 votes against the OBA’s Anthony Francis — the PLP did much better in the by-election held when Blakeney retired

• Pembroke Central, where the PLP’s Walton Brown held off Andrew Simons by six votes

• Warwick North Central, where the OBA’s Wayne Scott held off David Burch by ten votes

• Sandys North, where the PLP’s Michael Scott defeated the OBA’s Ray Charlton by eight votes

These are far from the only marginal seats. There are probably five more seats, most held by the OBA, which could be in play. A weak incumbent, a strong challenger or local circumstances can make a massive difference. What does seem certain is that this election will be very close.

Election watch: If you get the chance, visit some polling stations on election day. It gives you a feel for the mood, and it is heartening to see democracy in action.

The real fun on election day starts when the polls close at 8pm. Counting starts almost immediately, and typically the counts are reported at the quarter, half, three-quarter and final stages.

One thing to watch out for is the “bottom of the box”. Historically, voters for the OBA and its predecessor United Bermuda Party tended to vote earlier in the day, while PLP voters turned out later. So the early counts often seemed to favour the PLP before a late surge would occur for the UBP as the bottom of the box was reached.

The PLP has become better at getting its voters to the polls earlier, but the lesson is it is foolish to make assumptions based on quarter and half-counts.

It is best to keep an eye on the marginals as they come in because they can indicate which way the election is going. Thus, if one of the seats listed above changes hands, that will tell you who has the momentum. Owing to the size of the constituencies, results will come in a rush, probably about 11pm. But close votes will be slower, as the recording officers take care to be sure the count is accurate.

Finally, be prepared for at least one surprise. In 2012, few people would have predicted Paula Cox’s defeat. Likewise, Michael Dunkley’s defeat in 2007, while not as much of a surprise, was a hammer blow to his party’s hopes.

Bill Zuill is a former Editor of The Royal Gazette, for whom he covered six general elections between 1989 and 2012. He is now executive director of the Bermuda National Trust

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