GECOM commences training for polling day staff

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GECOM PRO Yolanda Warde

– over 2,200 undergoing training in Georgetown
– a total of 11,500 to be trained ahead of elections

IN preparation of the imminent General and Regional Elections, the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), on Saturday, commenced the process of training polling day staff. This includes the training of presiding officers, assistant presiding officers, ballot clerks, poll clerks and information clerks among others.

The training exercise was rolled out in 20 locations across Georgetown, and over the next six to eight weeks will be conducted in other communities across Guyana.

Speaking to the Guyana Chronicle at Lodge Secondary School, one of the 20 training centres, GECOM’s Public Relations Officer (PRO) Yolanda Warde disclosed that the elections commission received approximately 23,000 applications from persons interested in becoming polling day staff, and based on the number required to operationalise polling stations in Georgetown, approximately 2,200 persons were shortlisted. Those persons began training on Saturday, and will continue today.

However, Warde explained that, more persons would be shortlisted as the elections commission takes its training exercise to other parts of the country. Approximately 11,500 polling day staff are needed to facilitate General and Regional Elections.

“We have just about 2,300 polling stations, so if you multiply that 2,300 by five, that will give you the average of how many polling day staff,” the GECOM PRO said. That multiplication would lead to a figure of 11,500.

Once trained, the potential polling day staff would be evaluated, and those successful would be signed onto GECOM as temporary staff. According to Warde, the training exercise is expected to be completed by the end of September or early October. “Training is the longest component, we are talking here 10 administrative regions, we are talking here approximately six to eight weekends,” she told this newspaper, while explaining that if the elections commission fails to secure the required quota of staff at the end of the exercise, another round of training would have to be conducted but on a smaller scale.

Even as GECOM initiates its training exercise for Election Day staff, its enumerators are conducting house-to-house registration, and according to statistics coming out of the commission, more than 230,000 Guyanese have been registered to date.

The PRO noted that other activities are running concurrently as the elections commission gears up for the highly-anticipated General and Regional Elections, which were triggered after the opposition – the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) – successfully moved a no-confidence motion against the government last December.

However, Warde explained that the elections commission is being guided by statutory guidelines that are embedded in the Elections Laws (Amendment) Act, and as such, it would have to await certain acts, such as the naming of a date for elections, before other steps could be taken. “Considering all that is happening we know that General and Regional Elections are inevitable so this aspect (training of staff) we can clear out, but in terms of the other statutory timelines, an election date would become very, very important,” she said.

Potential polling day staff being trained at Lodge Secondary School in Georgetown. Training at the 20 locations in the city continues today
Photos by Adrian Narine

At this stage, GECOM’s operations team, the PRO disclosed, is discussing the procurement of non-sensitive materials that are necessary for the conduct of elections. “As it relates to the sensitive materials, particularly as it relates to ballots, we can only move to the procurement of ballots after Nominations Day because it is after Nominations Day when all the parties would have submitted their list of candidates….and those lists have been accepted, that we can move to the procurement of ballots,” Warde explained.

She noted that unlike other countries within the Caribbean Region, Guyana’s ballot papers are procured from external sources. “We do not procure ballots in Guyana, so all of our ballot printing and so is done out of Guyana. So we also have to leave time for the procurement of the ballots overseas,” the PRO further explained. It was also noted that once the ballot papers have been secured by GECOM, provisions would have to be made for the country’s non-resident ambassadors. “So when those ballots arrive in Guyana, we still have another critical subset, where we have to ship ballots to those non-resident ambassadors to ensure they vote and get it back to us. So it is important for us to really work on that curve in terms of a statutory timeline. So there are some things that we can do and there are some things we cannot do until that date kicks in,” the PRO explained.

President David Granger has long indicated that he will name a date for General and Regional Elections when the elections commission informs him that it is in a position to facilitate credible, free and fair elections. The elections commission, under the stewardship of Justice (Ret’d) Claudette Singh, during a recent meeting with President Granger, indicated that it will soon communicate its position to him. It was anticipated that the position would have been communicated to the President following the Thursday August 15 meeting of the commission but during that meeting, it was agreed that the High Court’s August 14 judgment on the ongoing house-to-house Registration must be first analysed before any decision is taken. The elections commission is now awaiting Chief Justice Roxane George-Wiltshire’s written judgment.