Google the word “geography”, and you will see that it is – in part – the study of the distribution of population. That concept of population distribution is one of the fundamental pillars of our electoral system. For electoral purposes, our country is divided into discrete geographical units – constituencies – at the Federal level, districts at the local level, based on the population. The expectation is that each unit ought to contain as near equal inhabitants as possible.
Each inhabitant of each geographical unit has an address that is considered his or her ordinary residence. It is this ordinary residence that qualifies the inhabitant to vote in that constituency upon satisfying all other conditions precedent to becoming registered as a voter. The definition of ordinary residency has generated much controversy over the years.
The election legislation describes ordinary residence as “… generally the place which [a person] has always been or which he or she has adopted as, the place of his or her habitation or home, whereto when away from there he or she intends to return”. To remove any doubt, it goes on to clarify that ordinary residence is not a place where a person has come for the purpose of engaging temporarily in any employment of a seasonal character of not more than six months at any one time.
However, ordinary residence does not apply to ALL persons. The law allows some persons to escape the residency condition and allows them to substitute the concept of domicile in its stead. These are citizens who reside overseas.
Domicile is more closely aligned to the country [nation] than to a residential address, so to determine placement in these cases, the law identifies the appropriate geographical location (the constituency) for a citizen who lives overseas but is domiciled in the Federation. If they were resident and then migrated, the constituency from which they left would be the correct one.
For the citizen who lives overseas and has never lived here who qualifies via domicile, the appropriate constituency to be registered in is the one where the person’s mother is or was, but for migration or death, ordinarily resident. If that person’s mother has never been ordinarily resident in the Federation, that person may use the constituency where the father is or was, but for migration or death, ordinarily resident.
No mention is made in the legislation about domicile via grandparent(s) or spouse although citizenship can be obtained via either. Similarly, no mention is made of economic citizens. The latter are prohibited from registration under the Citizenship Act but not under the National Assembly Elections Act.
There is a belief that there is an unfairness in the system that restricts resident citizens to a criterion that does not apply to non-resident citizens. That is the perceived bias which the amendment that was debated in the House last November was all about. If this amendment is passed every citizen would be subject to the same 6-month continuous residency in a constituency in order to claim “ordinary residence”. Domicile would be removed as a qualifying condition. Address-based Objections as well as Transfers would both be subject to a 6 month residency.
All this is in furtherance of one person one vote in the right place and fairness to all.