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PPP, PNCR executives differ on need for elections audit or vote recount

Aubrey Norton

Top executive members of the the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and the People’s National Congress Reform-led incumbent coalition are at odds over whether there should be a basic numerical national recount of votes cast in last month’s general elections or an audit.

PPP executive member, Attorney-at-Law, Anil Nandlall said there was no need for an audit to examine the voters’ list, number of votes cast at each polling stations, counterfoils, spoiled ballots and rejected ballots. “This must be fiercely resisted. No one ever called for an audit and no decision was ever made to do an audit. In any event, the law does not provide for an audit to be done. It is unnecessary and will only delay the process further,” he said in his recent opinion titled ‘Unruly Horse’.

The last time an elections audit was done was in 1998 under a special law, the Electoral Audit (Caricom Agreement) Act 1998, after there had been raging controversy over the 1997 election results and Janet Jagan had been already secretly sworn in as President.

But PNCR executive member, Aubrey Norton has taken the side of pro-coalition Elections Commissioner, Vincent Alexander who has been calling for an audit of the March 2, 2020 general and regional elections before a winner has been declared. “They cannot simply do a 1,2,3…recount, they have to do a complete audited recount, which means they will now have to validate the number of electors on the list, the number of electors who voted, check and agree among themselves whether spoilt or rejected ballots are indeed so. They also have to produce new tally sheets and SOPs (Statements of Poll),” Norton said.

But, Nandlall has already argued that the reworked proposal for the recount to be conducted in 10 days rather than 156 days as has been proposed by the Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield, is in keeping with the recount procedures of the Representation of the People Act. He says the law states where a returning officer is required to have a final count of the votes cast for all, or some, of the polling places, he shall in the presence of such persons entitled under section 86(1) to be present as attend open each ballot box; take out the ballot papers; count and record the number of ballot papers taken from each ballot box and count the votes recorded for each list of candidates…”

Attorney-at-Law, Anil Nandlall

Norton also blamed the PPP for causing Lowenfield to craft a national recount of the 2,339 ballot boxes that would take 156 days based on its suggestion that there should be three counting stations with two commissioners present at each and working 10 hours per day. He believed that the 156-day plan must have considered people falling ill or tired and disagreements over whether some ballots are spoiled or rejected.

Norton said GECOM might have been able to use more physical resources and more people to “get the job done in a shorter space of time” if the PPP did not recommend two commissioners at each of three counting stations and the need to take precautions to prevent contracting the deadly COVID-19 coronavirus.

“Taking all of this into consideration, it seems that the 156 proposed days is very ambitious, and if it is pulled off successfully, GECOM will definitely need praises,” said Norton, a former University of Guyana political science lecturer and former PNCR General Secretary.

GECOM is this week expected to receive an update from the Chief Elections Officer on recommendations by the PPP-aligned Election Commissioners — Sase Gunraj, Robeson Benn and Bibi Shadick — for the national recount to be done in 10 days by using 20 work stations, working 10 hours per day and taking one hour per ballot box.

The PPP commissioners alternative proposal states that all persons required to be present under Section 86 of Representation of the People Act and such other persons authorised to be present will participate in the recount and that “while the COVID-19 Health Regulations will be adhered to at all times, the integrity and scrutiny of this process is also of paramount importance.”