Biometric system at polling stations will be unconstitutional- GECOM Chairman

Last Updated on Friday, 9 December 2022, 16:28 by Denis Chabrol

Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Retired Justice Claudette Singh on Friday ruled out the use of electronic fingerprinting at polling stations, saying it risked disenfranchising electors and would amount to a violation of the country’s Constitution.

“With specific reference to the call for the introduction of a biometric identification system at every Polling Station, the decision given by the Chairman was that if such a system were to be introduced at the place of poll as a requirement for persons to vote, persons will be unable to vote in that in any absence/failure of such a means of identification, and that this would be contrary to the Constitution, as was absolutely clear in the decision in the Esther Perreira case,” she was quoted in a GECOM statement as saying.

Justice Singh had impaired the legal validity of the 1997 general and regional elections on the basis that the use of voter identification cards in that year’s polls had been unconstitutional. Guyanese, whose names are on the voters list, can still cast ballots without any form of identification through a folio verification system and an oath.

The opposition A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) has been demanding that a biometric system be introduced at polling stations as a means of preventing voter impersonation in the names of dead persons and emigrants. The governing People’s Progressive Party Civic has been bluntly denying the opposition’s claims of voter impersonation and has pointed to the several safeguards at polling stations involving representatives of political parties.

Referring to the Esther Perreira case, the Chairman recalled that the decision established that in accordance with Articles 59 and 159 of the Constitution once a person is 18 years and is registered that person is entitled to vote at an election.

At the same time, GECOM said the use of biometric identification at the polling stations might be permissible” if  a biometric identification system was to be used as an alternative means of identification, so that persons will be permitted to be identified by additional means and be allowed to exercise their right to vote even in the absence of such biometric identification.

The GECOM Chairman noted that biometric identification would simply be another means of identification for which the legislation does not currently provide,  and this will require legislative amendment.

At the same time Justice Singh said before a legal provision for biometrics at the polling stations is made, there should first be a feasibility study to assess whether the introduction of biometric identification at Polling Stations is something that can be done effectively.