Last Updated on Thursday, 25 May 2023, 22:13 by Denis Chabrol
Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo on Thursday revived the prospect of using a biometric identification system at polling stations and electronic voting, amid an unrelenting campaign by the opposition coalition of A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC).
“That is what can help enormously at the polling places; that is what we’ve advocated for,” he told a news conference at his party’s headquarters.
After taking a months-long hardline position against the use of a biometric system on that basis that it could be used to disenfranchise thousands of voters and open up the election to be challenged constitutionally, he said his original position was a two-pronged one that allowed for a secondary manual check if the biometric verification fails. “So there should be in the polling place maybe something when you go in, you put your fingerprint before you get the ballot and it verifies that,” said Mr Jagdeo who is also the General Secretary of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP).
Mr Jagdeo said if the biometric verification of the fingerprint that should be already in the database of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), that person’s identity should be verified manually by political party representatives. “If you can’t verify that the fingerprint is your fingerprint because it might be smudged, you go to a secondary (area) where suddenly all the polling agents would recognise you didn’t pass the fingerprint biometric test and, therefore, you go to an area here they will all examine whether you really are the person or not, so enhanced scrutiny,” he said.
The Vice President, however, pointed out again that biometrics could not be used to block persons from voting, as that had been done with the bipartisan passage of legislation to allow for the use of voter identification cards in the 1997 general and regional elections. The High Court later ruled that the use of voter identification cards was unconstituti0nal.
Pro-opposition election commissioner Vincent Alexander, when contacted late Thursday night, deemed Mr Jagdeo’s position “a cop out because what the judge ruled does not affect in any way the issue of biometrics.” He said if GECOM had gone ahead with a plan to capture fingerprints electronically, smudging would not be a problem.
Mr Jagdeo also favoured electronic voting which would include the issuance of a receipt that states the person’s preference and that is placed in a ballot box. He said that would amount to two systems. “If anything goes wrong with the machine, you always have the box to go back to as the old method, he added.
The PPP General Secretary appeared disappointed that a European Union (EU) Electoral Observation follow-up mission did not state categorically that cleansing the voters list would amount to the unconstitutional removal of names from the voters list rather than saying that the parties should find consensus on the methodology for doing so. “That is also not taking a position. They should have said clearly that the constitution of Guyana does not allow what APNU wants. It will be illegal, as the Chief Justice has said before. The EU should have been brave enough to say that rather than kick it down the road and say the politicians should find consensus on this,” he said.
APNU+AFC continues to demand a clean voters list and the use of biometrics, even offering to support government in amending Guyana’s constitution and the relevant electoral laws.
The Vice President earlier Thursday met with the Secretary General of the Organisation of American States (OAS) on Main Street, Georgetown.