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GECOM divided on merging voter registration data; Jamaican assistance sought on fingerprint verification

Pro-coalition elections commissioners Desmond Trotman, Vincent Alexander and Charles Corbin.

Guyana’s electoral commissioners representing the governing coalition and the opposition were Wednesday at odds over whether the names of about 300,000 persons collected during the month-long house-to-house registration exercise can be merged with the existing National Register of Registrants (NRR).

The governing A Partnership for National Unity+ Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC)-nominated elections commissioner Vincent Alexander said after listening to arguments from both sides the Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Retired Justice Claudette Singh made her decision without objection from either side.

PPP commissioner, Sase Gunraj said GECOM’s technical personnel would have to present a plan to the seven-member electoral body to merge the new and old data. “The secretariat has to come back to us now as to how they intend so to do.” he said. At the same time, he and his colleague commissioners – Robeson Benn and Bibi Shadick – maintained that the names and other bio-data collected are “unverified and should not be used”.

“The difficulty that we have is the use of the word merging and verification of the data… We have said that any merging or verification of the data by using house-to-house information is wrong, it will take a long time and that it will contaminate the NRR (National Register of Registrants)…It will because they (who were just registered) will appear as duplicates and, having appear as duplicates, since they are already on the NRR each one of those will have to be investigated and that the resort to use the house-to-house registration information is only another ploy to delay the holding of the elections as a result of the no-confidence motion and we are very unhappy about that,” Benn said.

Shadick clarified that the GECOM Chairman said using the data would depend on how long it would take to merge the data. In that regard, GECOM’s Deputy Chief Elections Officer Roxanne Myers and its Information Technology Manager are in Jamaica examining practices in data merging, cross-matching of fingerprints and verifying processes. “They have to come back, the CEO (Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield) has to prepare a plan which the Chairman will look at and we’ll discuss and if she decides that it’s taking too long, then we, she will make another decision about whether we will use or not (the house-to-house registration data)”, Shadick said.

Alexander, however, slammed the PPP commissioners for not only having a history of walkouts from GECOM meetings, but for trumping up allegations of unverified data although the very process of house-to-house registration is actually one that verifies residency. “We do verification in the course of continuous registration where registration is office-based. We then go to the person’s home to verify that the person does in fact exist at that particular place of residence. When we do house-to-house, verification is inherent in the fact that it’s done at the person’s house,” he said.

Alexander, once an active member of the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) also challenged the PPP’s claim that the registration process was not scrutinised by its agents. He said the PPP was given an opportunity but that party refused to name scrutineers. “That’s a choice they exercised. Nothing says scrutinizing is mandatory. What it is says the opportunity for scrutinizing is mandatory. They were given an opportunity and from the inception they were not participating,” he said. The pro-coalition commissioner accused the PPP for contriving problems to turn around and challenge the process and the outcome of the elections.

PPP-nominated election commissioners Sase Gunraj, Bibi Shadick and Robeson Benn.

He said GECOM’s registration process provides for the presence of scrutineers but if they are absent the registration continues. “That’s a part of our process. I think it should be in writing so that even in the registration process, once we notify a scrutineer that we are working today. It doesn’t mean that if they do not turn up, it does not stop the process,” he said.

Alexander disagreed that merging would corrupt the NRR as the 100 percent cross-matching of fingerprints would weed out any duplicate registration instead of merely relying on names and addresses. He shied away from suggesting how long that cross-matching could take and he preferred to rely on possible assistance from Jamaica.

Once a strident advocate of house-to-house registration as the lone fool-proof method to produce a clean voters list, Alexander now says, “I might not necessarily agree with what decision the woman (GECOM Chairman) came up with but we are aware of process and we have to live within the context of process. We can’t, just because we don’t like something, object and walk out. We have appointed a Chairman; all sides agreed on her appointment. We now have to follow process,” he said.

Opposition and government commissioners confirmed that Singh made the decision to end the house-to-house registration exercise on Saturday, August 31 without putting it to a vote because in any case one side would have voted for or against. “Even if we voted, it would have split evenly,” said Shadick.

Asked whether the GECOM Chairman gave a reason for bringing the registration to an end, Shadick said, “Yes. She said it has to stop; we have to go to an election and we can’t go on”.