Wide margins are one thing, but often, it is “dust votes” the less than the fingers on one hand votes, which determine who will sit as members of the House of Assembly.
General elections in the Bahamas have gone through a long and painful evolution, very much akin, to child birth. Pain. Tears. And jubilation for personal and ideological victories. From the franchise given to only men of property and tax payer status, to plural voting, to company votes, to elections held on different days, to the testing of the secret ballot only on New Providence, to the extension of the secret ballot to the Family Islands, to the franchise for men only and finally to women’s suffrage, every knot in the rope of citizens’ rights to vote their conscience, as they saw fit, have all seen their painful births in the country.
Throughout history, election time in the Bahamas has always been a fun time, and let’s be honest, a profitable time for some. In the old days, before the secret ballot, rich candidates would arrive in their constituencies with cases of rum, sacks of rice and flour, but best of all, cases filled with money, paper pounds and shilling coins, to spread around. Men would go in the room to vote. They would stand in the centre of the room with the candidates or their representatives sitting there watching. The male voter would say out loud who he was voting for. As he left the room, the money would be handed to him discreetly as he left. The rum was already waiting at home.
For poorer candidates, they only had one thing to offer, they would have to appeal to the good conscience of voters and keep their fingers crossed.
In modern times, money or no money, rum or no rum, if the voters don’t think you have done enough in the constituency, it’s becomes like that old Bahamian saying which colourfully expresses what happens when your back is turn… “dog eat your lunch.”
Perry Christie versus Reece Chipman 2017 – 4 votes
In 2017, after eight consecutive terms as constituency representative, Perry Christie, then Prime Minister lost his seat after an all-night recount to Free National Movement (FNM) newcomer Reece Chipman. Mr Chipman garnered 1,909 votes in the Centerville constituency to Mr Christie’s 1,905 and others receiving 197. He lost by four votes. If one took into account the one protest ballot counted. Christie’s net loss was by three votes.
But Perry Christie was in good company. Some of the most enduring names in modern Bahamian times also lost by mere dust votes.
Stephen Albert Dillet versus J. L. Saunders (1904) – 4 votes
In 1904, the name S. Albert Dillet was all over Nassau. He was an organist, a singer of sorts, he sang in many programs. Stephen Albert Dillet was also a staunch Temperance man. Dillet believed in the evils of alcohol and preached endlessly about it. He was part of the Temperance Society and Bahamas Temperance Union. Dillet pushed for education in schools about the evils of alcohol. A bill which he wrote was tabled in the House of Assembly which offered that temperance education should be part of the standard curriculum in schools. He was also one of the founders of the first boy’s industrial school, and acted as secretary for the Boynton Normal and Industrial Institute.
15th March, 1904
To the Editor of the Nassau Guardian
In view of the movement now on foot for obtaining the teaching in our public schools “The nature of Alcoholic drinks and their effects on the human system in connection with the physiology and hygiene” will you kindly publish the following notes and oblige.
S. Albert Dillet”
In 1904, Dillet ran against James L. Saunders, Esq. When Dillet lost, a group of people petitioned the government for a recount. We must remember that in 1904, there was no secret ballot voting. Men would stand in the centre of the voting room and say publicly who they were voting for. The count was challenged on the basis of some skullduggery and undue influence on the voters. Mr. J. L. Saunders, Esq. the winner, got a lawyer and countered the challenge petition.
The House of Assembly went through a recount process.
“Mr. J. H. Young from the select committee of Elections, to whom was referred the petition of Nathaniel A. Bosfied and others, and the counter petition of James L. Saunders, Esq. handed in a report in which they state that the Committee entered upon a full enquiry into the allegations contained in the petition as well as into the claims and objections of Mr. J. L. Saunders who represented by S. H. O Clutsam, Attorney at Law, a work entailing considerable labour. The deliberation of the committee occupied seven days, and a large number of witnesses were called and examined, and from the evidence adduced, the result of the scrutiny was as follows:
For Mr. Saunders ……231
For Mr. S. A. Dillet 227
giving Mr. Saunders a majority of 4 votes over Mr. Dillet and entirely him to have the seat.”
(The Nassau Guardian and Bahama Islands Advocate and Intelligencer, Nassau, April 20th, 1904)
Dr. C. R. Walker versus Bertam Cambridge (1942) – 2 votes
In 1942, the life of the House of Assembly was seven years. Elections of 1942, took place right in the middle of the war effort. There was much debate about this. Some wanted to extend the life of house until after the war, others did not. In the end elections took place as scheduled.
Dr. C. R. Walker had been a representative for the Southern district for one, seven year, term, from 1935. He lost his seat to a newcomer, a Mr. Bert Cambridge, by just two votes. Dr. Walker polled 144 votes, and Bert Cambridge polled 146 votes.
The same election saw the return of Mr. Thaddeus A. Toote to the House of Assembly.
(The Nassau Guardian Nassau, Friday June 19, 1942)
L. W. Young voted. Roland T. Symonette wins seat, but loses senior position by two votes to Wilfred G. Cash (1942)
In 1942, elections in the various districts across the Bahamas were taking place on different days. The secret ballot was being tested, for the first time, on the capital island of New Providence only.
Three men ran for the Eastern district of New Providence. Wilfred Cash, Roland T. Symonette and L.W. Young. Leon Walton Young had, up to 1942 been a representative for the Eastern District for thirty years in four Assemblies. He polled 168 votes. In 1942, Mr. L. W. Young was one of the oldest members of the House of Assembly. When voting concluded, Wilfred G. Cash polled 236 votes to Roland T. Symonette’s 234. Wilfred Cash beat Symonette by just two votes. This enabled cash to be regarded as the senior member for the East and Symonette as the junior for the East.
Symonette had been a representative for the East since the 1935 elections and prior to that he had been the representative for Harbour Island for ten years.
Roland T. Symonette, as anyone who knows anything about Bahamian history, would go on to eventually become the very first Premiere of the Bahamas.