GECOM’s detailed scrutiny of voting will be illegal but “nothing to hide”- PPP

Last Updated on Saturday, 2 May 2020, 21:03 by Denis Chabrol

Attorney-at-Law, Anil Nandlall

The opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and the incumbent A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) are at odds over the opposition party’s objection to detailed scrutiny of the ballots and list.

PPP Executive Member, Anil Nandlall is resisting a plan by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to check one of the envelopes to determine whether there were errors by the Presiding Officers at the 2,339 polling stations across the country at the March 2, 2020 general and regional council elections. Nandlall is relying on the law that states  during a count or recount, the envelopes “shall not” be opened. “Why are we running in a collision course with the law? Why not recount the ballot? Isn’t that what we are asking for – a recount of the ballots cast by the electorate? Why are we going to examine the whole process of elections. You are bound to find irregularity. That, to me, is creating the platform for unnecessary queries to be raised because we are embarking on the scope of a process that is so wide that it was never intended,” he said.

He specifically objected to GECOM’s decision to examine the check-off lists of electors who were ticked by Presiding Officers,  and ignoring the Representation of the People  Act to determine spoilt ballots. He questioned the motive of opening envelopes of unused ballots.

“What we canvassed for is a recount of the ballots cast, nothing else so let us assume you had an errant or a delinquent presiding officer and that person did not tick accurately the names of the persons who voted at the polling station, so if you discover that discrepancy now, what are you going to do with it?. How are you going to reconcile that? The work-plan doesn’t speak to these matters,” he said. Nandlall added that the work-plan does not cater for a dispute-resolution mechanism.

David Patterson

The PPP also raised concerns about the omission of Returning Officers and leaving them to the Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield and his Deputy , Roxanne Myers who were absent from Saturday’s meetings with the parties, the commission and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) recount team.

But senior APNU+AFC representative, David Patterson, who represented the coalition at Saturday’s meeting with GECOM, accused the PPP of seeking to hide the number of ballots that were issued and used.

Claiming that a PPP representative in the meeting told participants that it was “inevitable” that there would be a mismatch between the list and the ballots because of errors or omissions, Patterson said the PPP representative raised a “strange” question about whether the security marks on the ballots would be checked or just the voting marks on the paper. “What I understand and what GECOM has contained in here is that there are certain safety features on every ballot and that they will be scanning each and every ballot so that anybody who thought that they could have put in a fake ballot, it cannot happen,” he said.

At the same time, he was adamant that “the PPP has nothing to hide” but that the APNU+AFC would do “everything possible to ensure that the process doesn’t accurately conclude.” He did not specifically state whether the PPP would go to court if GECOM decides to open the envelopes.

Elections Commissioner, Charles Corbin.

Pro-coalition Elections Commissioner, Charles Corbin, meanwhile, expected concerns to be raised about the six-digit stamp “in a number of instances were defective” and that would have to be settled before determining the validity of the ballots. “The commission has not gone through that but it has been raised … and we are conscious that this is one of the issues that is likely to arise and so we are aware that we have to be forewarned that we have to pronounce on that,” Corbin said.

Corbin said a “problem resolution procedure” would be put in place to involve counting staff, district supervisors, Chief Elections Officer and ultimately to the Commission.

GECOM is expected to meet again on Sunday to discuss the calls by the opposition parties and agree on a date to include in the Recount Order to be published in the Official Gazette.

The three-member team of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) scrutineers met with the seven-member GECOM. However, the Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield and the Deputy Chief Elections Officer, Roxanne Myers were absent from that meeting as well as the one with the political parties.