Prisoners should vote

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Georgetown Prison

THE Carter Center has recommended that prisoners in Guyana, particularly those who are on remand, be allowed to vote at national elections.
In its report on the May 2015 General and Regional Elections which saw the APNU+AFC coalition government narrowly winning the elections, the center said the rights of prisoners to vote must be respected.
“Guyana is obligated to ensure that the right of universal suffrage is fully realised. Guyana should seek to facilitate voting by prisoners, particularly those held in remand who have not yet been convicted of a crime,” the report released on Wednesday stated.
Additionally, the Center noted that in future elections; there should be procedural measures in place to avoid unreasonable disenfranchisement of eligible citizens.
Also in its recommendations, the body called for consolidation of electoral laws, overhaul and modernise campaign finance laws, creation of legislation on political parties, clarifying the laws pertaining to recounts, and strengthening the process of tabulating results.
The Cater Center stated since 2004 Guyana’s winner-take-all system does not serve the country’s interests, given its demographic patterns and history of entrenched ethnic voting.
“In this system, the party (and ethnic group) that wins a plurality of the votes claims all executive and legislative power except in the rare cases of opposition majorities in the National Assembly.
This exclusionary governance system fuels ethnic insecurity and is a factor in Guyana’s long-running ethnic conflict. While this dynamic has changed somewhat since the Herdmanston reforms and the rise of a successful third political party in 2005, this does not obviate the need for further constitutional reforms,” the Center noted.
Additionally, the Center spoke of the coalition government’s campaign commitment to have Constitutional Reform so as to achieve inclusive governance and power sharing, and urged that that promise be fulfilled.
“Similarly, the Center urges the PPP/C to engage fully in what should be an open process inclusive of all stakeholders. The Center encourages all Guyanese to think profoundly and creatively about how these goals could be achieved.”
The report noted that the regulations related to the administration of elections are fragmented across numerous pieces of legislation, orders, regulations, and judicial decisions and said consolidation of the law ahead of future elections would create greater legal certainty and clarity among stakeholders regarding the rules governing elections in Guyana.
“When consolidating election legislation, consideration should be given to the following areas, with a particular focus on the electoral system: Re-evaluate the Electoral System. Re-evaluate the electoral system, considering systems that would promote support across ethnic lines and better reflect international standards. For example, the present list system allows political parties to allocate seats to members of their choice after the election, meaning that the voter casts his/her ballot for the party, not candidates.”
Additionally, it was noted that the signing of the Herdmanston Accord of 1998 aimed to restore peace here after violent post-election protests. The accord had called for an audit of the 1997 elections, moratorium on demonstrations, dialogue between political parties, a constitutional review process, and a new political environment.

EQUAL REPRESENTATION
Additionally, it was noted that there is no requirement for political parties to allocate seats in the National Assembly to female candidates from within their lists, and as such, Guyana was called upon “to consider adjustments to its legal framework and electoral system to equalise representation of women in Parliament.”
The issue of limitations on presidential candidates running for office and member of the National Assembly has been raised and the Carter Center has dubbed the limitation as “an unreasonable limitation on the freedom of association and on the right to run for election, and consideration should be given to allowing independent candidates”.
The report said Guyana should consider “ranked-choice voting for president to place an incentive on candidates to appeal to voters across party and communal lines.”

CAMPAIGN FINANCE LAWS
Meanwhile, the overhaul and modernisation of campaign finance laws was also recommended and the Carter Center believes that in order to ensure realisation of the right and opportunity to be elected, legal reform is necessary to improve campaign finance laws.
“Legislation should be strengthened to routinely require disclosure of contributions and expenditures. Consideration also should be given to establishing reasonable limits on donations and expenditures to ensure that the free choice of voters is not undermined or the democratic process distorted by disproportionate expenditures on behalf of any candidate or party.”
As such, a monitoring and enforcement body with oversight authority of compliance with campaign finance regulations would prove beneficial to the country.
Additionally, the report stated that there is need for Guyana to establish clear requirements for the registration and operation of political parties via legislation which would effectively support the freedom of association while promoting broad multi-ethnic parties that can represent the citizenry’s interests in governance.
The body also believes there needs to be a more equitable distribution of geographical seats among electors.
“To ensure the principle of equal suffrage, constituencies should be drawn so that voters are represented in the legislature on a more equal basis. In Guyana, the magnitude of the geographic constituencies for the 25 regional seats in the Parliament varies, negatively impacting the equality of suffrage.”
As such, it was recommended that consideration be given to establishing clear provisions regarding boundary delimitation, with management by an independent and impartial body, to allow for stakeholder and citizen participation in the process.
The report also suggested that there be reconsideration of the systems in place to enfranchise citizens working on Election Day including, certificates of employment, voting by proxy and advanced voting for the disciplined services.
Staff of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), members of the disciplined services, political party agents, civil society observers, and members of the media over the years have been allowed to vote. In the case of members of the disciplined services, advance in-person voting was conducted.
It is the view of the Carter Center that at the 2015 elections, the beneficiaries of these procedures “were more limited than in past elections and excluded members of civil society serving as election observers”.
“Systems for enfranchising these categories of people should be re-evaluated to ensure that all citizens have the opportunity to exercise their right to vote. Where applied, procedures for advance voting must be strictly regulated to protect the secrecy of the vote,” the report stated.
RECOUNTS
Meanwhile, the Carter Center also called for clarity on the laws relative to recounts and noted that confidence in the voters list is a crucial component of elections.
“Voter registration processes should promote inclusiveness, ensure that the right to vote is protected, and safeguard against voting by ineligible people. GECOM, the registrar general, and other departments of the government of Guyana should enhance communication, particularly surrounding the timely removal of the deceased from the voters list.”
As such, it was recommended that publicly available guidelines be created regarding requests for recounts, decision-making criteria for the granting of recounts, people or organisations who make decisions regarding recounts, and ways recounts are to be conducted.

CONFIDENCE IN VOTERS LIST
In order to increase transparency and build confidence, it was recommended that an independent audit of the voters list should be facilitated as well as observation of all aspects of the voter registration process.
Additionally, the Carter Center called on Guyana to accede to Applicable Human Rights Treaties including the American Convention on Human Rights.
Thee Center says GECOM should open its meetings to Observers. “While GECOM and its secretariat operated in an open and inclusive manner, representatives of citizen and international observer groups should be granted access to commission meetings where feasible,” the report stated.
The report noted that minutes of meetings should be published and posted online to promote the transparent administration of elections and facilitate public understanding of commission deliberations and decisions.
Moreover, the report recommended that GECOM continues to strengthen the professionalism and independence of the Commission.
“An independent and impartial body charged with implementing elections is an important means of ensuring the integrity of the electoral process. The structure, staffing, recruitment, and training of staff should be closely evaluated and steps taken to ensure that GECOM advances as a professional and independent election management body,” the Center said.
A call has also been made for the strengthening of the process used to tabulate results. In fact, the Center called for the process to be “carefully reviewed and revised to increase the transparency of the process, with particular attention to the relationship between tabulation conducted by returning officers and the central tally”.
Also, to ensure the integrity of the tabulation process, it was recommended that consideration be given to a centralised electronic tabulation system that includes double-blind data entry and clear procedures for the handling of quarantined materials.
“The process should be transparent, verifiable, and timely,” the report added.
Meanwhile, it was recommended that all GECOM vehicles or vehicles used by GECOM to transport election material be clearly marked to indicate that the cargo is the property of the Commission.
The Carter Center team in Guyana was led by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Dame Audrey Glover of the United Kingdom, and Dame Billie Miller of Barbados. Six medium term observers from six countries were deployed overall. The Center has monitored elections here in 1992, 2001 and 2006.