Stabroek News: GECOM Recount Inches Along

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Main Parties’ Agents Fume Over ‘Sideshows,’ Discrepancies

By Thandeka Percival
Stabroek News

STABROEK NEWS ONLINE (May 9, 2020) – Forty-three ballot boxes from the March 2nd general elections were recounted Friday, bringing the three-day tally to 108 of 2339 boxes and upping the pressure on GECOM to decide how to quicken the process that has been slowed by numerous queries from the incumbent APNU+AFC.

The number of boxes counted is just 5% of the total and a proposed 25-day period would not be met at this pace. It means that each of the 10 stations counted 4.3 boxes over 11 hours. Speaking with journalists outside the Arthur Chung Conference Centre (ACCC), Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) spokes-person Yolanda Ward disclosed that 10 boxes were completed in both Regions One and Two while 11 boxes in Region 3 were counted and 12 in Region Four.

With 10 workstations operating, GECOM is hoping that once staff become more familiar with the process, the pace of counting will increase.

Ward also explained that the tabulation centre has been able to tabulate 74 General Elections Statements of Recount (SORs) and 63 Regional Elections SORs.

“We should be able to catch up with numbers tomorrow,” Ward said of the tabulation process which was conducted from 5 pm to 6.30 pm yesterday. She said that as of today the process is likely to begin one hour earlier at 4pm.

Meanwhile, Executive member of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), Anil Nandlall told the media that he was concerned about the pace of the count.

“We need to accelerate the pace at which the process is moving. It is moving extraordinarily slowly and that again has to do with the unnecessary exercises being done …the recount is a recount of those votes cast by the electorate but we find that a tremendous amount of time is being expended on matters not connected to the recount itself but concerning the examination of other materials in the box [such as] reconciling lists of electors found in the boxes,” he lamented.

According to Nandlall, these “sideshows” are distracting from the main event and consuming valuable time. He charged specifically that for each box 90% of the time is being spent on issues outside of the actual recount.

The counting of the actual ballots in a box with approximately 100 electors, he noted, took a mere 30 minutes.

“That cannot affect the process. We are dealing with a recount of the ballots cast. That is what we are dealing with… a recount of the ballots that were cast and counted by the presiding officer on elections night. How those ballots got there and whether they were rightly placed there are matters for an election petition,” Nandlall said while noting that wild and reckless allegations were being made without evidence.

Those issues, he maintained, have to be thrashed out based on other aspects of law.

PPP/C Presidential Candidate Irfaan Ali had a similar concern. He argued that a lot of the slothfulness is coming from the APNU+AFC raising the same types of queries which were dealt with on day one.

Both he and Nandlall have requested that the commission compile a list of queries asked and answered so that the same matters are not raised by rotating party agents and staff members.

These ‘queries’ which have divided the contesting parties all seem to relate to the process of reconciliation provided for in the recount Order.

According to the Order once a ballot box is opened at a workstation, the contents shall then be emptied, and the election materials examined.

“Notes shall be taken, and records made in accordance with the requirements of the Ballot Box Checklist,” it adds.

This checklist requires that several pieces correspond including that the ballots issued equal the sum of ballots cast, destroyed, spoiled, stamped, and as deemed necessary, their counterfoils/ stubs.

Reconciliation also calls for the authenticity of the ballots to be ascertained as well as the number of voters listed and crossed out as having voted; the number of votes cast without ID cards; the number of proxies issued and the number utilized; statistical anomalies and occurrences recorded in the Poll Book.

Discrepancies

According to APNU+AFC agent Ganesh Mahipaul, at his station alone there have been several discrepancies.

“The first box we opened this afternoon had 11 oaths of identity which were not signed,” he noted, lamenting that this was a major issue since it cannot be ascertained if these persons were actually present to cast votes.

Asked if his party agent who was present in that polling station on March 2 had raised any concern, Mahipaul said he could not say.

Government-nominated GECOM Com-missioner Vincent Alexander raised similar concerns. Speaking with journalists, he explained that the Commission has had to indicate in some cases that requests are irrelevant to the process as they don’t affect the count but since the objective of the recount process is to generate a “final credible count” some requests must be addressed since they affect “credibility”.

“We have instances, for example, where the number of ballots are greater than the number crossed off on the official voters list. A number like that is a credibility issue and is matter pertaining to the count,” Alexander stressed explaining that the difference was in excess of 20.

He maintained that since the Order addresses the matter of credibility then these matters must be settled.

He stated that the Commission has committed to resolving these matters as soon as possible. In the interim, boxes which have significant issues will see their SORs not included in the tabulation rather they will be held in “abeyance” until the issues are settled.

Does not affect count

However, opposition-appointed GECOM Commissioner Sase Gunraj argued that many of the issues raised not only cannot be settled during the recount but are also irrelevant to the process.

“It does not affect the vote count,” he said of accusations related to dead or migrated voters.

According to Gunraj, unlike the Claims and Objections period or polling day itself, where such accusations can be properly investigated and validated, the recount does not have similar resources nor does it have the same objectives.

“This is a secondary layer…Everybody was in the station for the count…In the polling station you have party agents, you have GECOM officials, you have observers. They get the opportunity to see who walks in the door, they get the opportunity to compare that person’s face to a folio, and they get the opportunity to look at an identity document. They don’t have that facility here because this is a secondary layer [and] we really don’t have the authority to question that at this stage. I don’t want us to inject bogeymen where bogeymen don’t exist”, he repeatedly stressed.

Ward and Alli also reminded that in some places of poll, persons voted via letters of employment and disciplined services ballots were included in the total count. In cases like this the names crossed out on the List of Electors will not equal the ballots cast.

As the day drew to a close and the complaints about the process from the major parties mounted, one newer party expressed satisfaction with it.

Executive member of A New and United Guyana Kian Jabour told reporters that so far his party is comfortable with the transparency and credibility of the process.

“I have been pleased with how GECOM has handled themselves,” he stated.

He stressed that the general public should not allow itself to be “caught up in politics” but rather pay attention to the process and its execution.

“Unless this affects the end result we are getting caught up in politics. Whatever has happened in the box has already happened. This is a recount. This cannot change the results of the elections,” he reiterated.

Speaking on the queries which have been raised by the incumbent, Jabour said it is their right to ask questions.

“It is a tedious process but everything has to be read out and understood…it [queries] slows the process down but it is their right,” he said while projecting that the process is likely to take approximately three months if it continues at the current pace. (Reprinted from Stabroeknews.com)

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