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GECOM cuts back on private homes as polling places

Elections Commissioner, Vincent Alexander.

The Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) has cut back on using private homes as polling places for the March 2, 2020, general elections, but election commissioners from across the political divide are at odds over whether this would inconvenience voters.

Pro-opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) commissioner, Sase Gunraj said GECOM’s decision to reduce the number of private homes as polling stations could cause a backup of voters on polling day. “What this has resulted in in some areas is a concentration of polling stations in one location,” Gunraj told reporters after Tuesday’s statutory meeting.

Against the background of concerns that people would have to travel long distances and cause more people to use reduced polling stations, he said the Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield has promised to address those concerns.

Gunraj said he was not opposed to a reduction in the use of private residences as polling places but you cannot sacrifice expediency, logistics, and voter comfort and accessibility. He noted that the number of polling stations has been increased but the actual locations have been reduced.

Elections Commissioner Attorney-at-Law, Sase Gunraj

But pro-governing coalition elections commissioner, Vincent Alexander cited the large housing settlement in Sophia that uses one school gate to access polling stations at the two educational institutions that are in that area. He said political parties have been integrally involved in deciding which polling places should be removed from private residences. “GECOM itself has gone out there to try to reduce the number of private properties. They have made those lists of polling places available to political parties. The political parties have been using their own intelligence and have said ‘we don’t like that place because it’s a political activist who lives there…’,” he said.

Alexander could not say precisely how many private residences would not be polling places at next month’s elections but he estimated that the number of such homes has been cut from 700 to 200.

He said GECOM would now conduct an assessment of the public places to ascertain whether they meet the minimum requirements to accommodate voters. Alexander said “at this stage” GECOM would not exceed 450 electors per polling station.

There are an estimated 2,500 polling stations countrywide for the 661, 378 eligible voters to cast their ballots.