‘Let’s see if you’re alive’

GECOM Chair Justice Claudette Singh

…GECOM chair justifies stance on 20,000 non-ID card holders
…says they will be allowed to vote but must present other forms of ID
…to be placed on supplementary list of electors

By Lisa Hamilton

SHOULD a total of 19,502 citizens who have not collected their Identification (ID) Cards from the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) over a period of years turn up to vote on elections day, they will be permitted to do so, but must present an alternative form of identification such as a passport or birth certificate.

The names of these individuals who fail to collect their ID cards by a given date will be placed on a Supplementary List along with the Official List of Electors [OLE] on elections day, which would also allow them the opportunity to vote. The number, once stated as many as 20,000 persons, was narrowed down to over 19,000 with the removal of those now dead with the help of the General Registrar’s Office (GRO)

At a press conference on Friday, Chief Elections Officer (CEO), Keith Lowenfield, notified that amongst this number, from the 2008 house-to-house registration exercise, a total of 12,079 ID cards were not collected. Data for 2018 showed that over 1,400 ID cards remained undistributed both of which also add to the total figure.

While several in the public have questioned the commission’s legal right to do so, GECOM Chair, Justice (rt’d) Claudette Singh, at the press conference, cited the proviso of Section 668 of the National Registration (Amendment) Act 2005. She highlighted that, according to the Act, the commission can utilise the verification of the list at any time. “This is the procedure being utilised to cleanse the List. We just want to verify the existence of these people. They should come forward and say ‘well I’m alive’,” she said.

In October, following the proposal of a commissioner, the commission had decided that the approximately 20,000 persons who were registered in 2008 but have not yet collected their ID cards, will be given 21 days to do same or be struck off OLE. The commission also assured that these persons will be given notice by means of publishing the names in the daily newspapers and by registered mail.

On the Kaieteur Radio on Thursday, the GECOM Chair had stated clearly that, contrary to some talks, it is not the commission’s intention to disenfranchise any eligible voter. “Your names will be taken off the Official List of Electors [OLE] but your names would still remain on the National Register of Registrants Database,” she stated. “We will remove them from that OLE and place them on another list supplementary to the OLE and it will be hanging there so if, on elections day, one of those persons turn up they will be allowed to vote once they come with maybe a passport, some form of identification.”

On Friday, she added, “It is not GECOM’s intention to disenfranchise anyone and this exercise is not a witch-hunting exercise as is being rumored. GECOM has no intention of disenfranchising anyone, it’s just a verification process.”

Leader of the Opposition, Bharrat Jagdeo, is not against the verifying of the existence of the 20,000 but is against their removal from the OLE. However, the Chair admitted that it is “worrying” when some 20,000 persons, for over 11 years, have not taken the opportunity to collect their ID cards. Efforts, over the years, have been made to contact these individuals who have still not verified their existence in the country.

Opposition-nominated commissioners have contested that the law does not stipulate that citizens need an ID card to vote and therefore the collection of these cards should be non-related. On the other hand, some commissioners believe that these persons might be part of a scheme of the opposition to rig the upcoming elections. “The fact is, since 2008, 20,000 persons did not come forward to collect these cards. Where are these persons?” the Chair questioned at the press conference. “They never turned up from 2008. You don’t know anything about those people, you don’t know if they’re alive or not. We need to verify; the law says that.”

Elections are expected to be held in Guyana on March 2, 2020 and the commission has committed to doing all in its power to ensure that free, fair and credible elections are held.