–Commission establishes hierarchical system to resolve issues; sets out clear tabulation guidelines
By Svetlana Marshall
THE Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) has established a hierarchical system for the resolution of disputes, should any arise during the National Recount of votes cast at the March 2, 2020 Elections. However, to minimise the possibility of a dispute arising during the process, clear tabulation guidelines have been agreed upon by the Commission, and strict security systems will be put in place to prevent disruptions.
The National Recount stemmed from a series of legal proceedings filed in the High Court after difficulties were encountered during the tabulation of the more than 800 Statements of Poll for District 4 by Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo. In fact, disagreements among the Returning Officer, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C)’s agents, and other political parties and observatory groups resulted in loud screams and chants within GECOM’s Command Centre, where the RO’s Office was housed. At one stage, agents belonging to the PPP/C and a number of small political parties clashed with the police as they tried to invade an office in which GECOM Chairman, Justice (Ret’d) Claudette Singh was operating.
NO LONGER TOLERATED
But Elections Commissioner Vincent Alexander said no such behaviour will be tolerated at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre (ACCC) where the National Recount will be executed for a period of approximately 25 days. In an interview with reporters on Friday, Alexander said strict security systems will be instituted.
“GECOM will take command of that venue, and, with the aid of the national security forces, will ensure that we don’t make the mistakes which, in my opinion, occurred at the Ashmins building (the Command Centre),” the Elections Commissioner said.
More importantly, Alexander said that GECOM has established a hierarchical system for the resolution of issues that may arise during the recount of the votes cast in the country’s 10 Electoral Districts.
“There is a supervisor for each work station; the supervisor is the first stop for resolution of issues. If that doesn’t work, then it goes up the chain to the Chief Elections Officer (CEO); and if that doesn’t work, the issue is brought to the Commission,” Mr. Alexander explained.
No one commissioner will be responsible for the resolution of issues, he said, and issues will be dealt with as a matter of urgency. “We are not operating as individual commissioners, as so far as decision-making is concerned; we are operating as a Commission,” he said, adding: “Some matters will have to be treated with urgency.”
The Elections Commissioner is hoping, however, that there will be little or no dispute arising during the much-anticipated National Recount, as clear guidelines for the process have been agreed by the Commission, in accordance with the Constitution and Electoral Laws.
**The National Recount is covered under Article 162 (1) (b) of the Constitution of Guyana, which mandates the Elections Commission to “take such action as appear to it necessary, or expedient, to ensure impartiality, fairness and compliance with the provisions of the Constitution,” and Section 22 of the Elections Laws (Amendment) Act of 2000.
According to the operational plan and draft order, which were approved on Friday, the national recount will take place at the Conference Centre for a period of 25 days, but that timeframe may be subject to review. The commencement date, however, is pending. The Elections Commission is awaiting communication from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat regarding the high-level CARICOM team that has been invited to scrutinise the process.
However, once the process commences, there will be 10 workstations operating for a period of 10 hours, from 08:00hrs to 18:00hrs, on a daily basis. The plan also details the tabulation process, and those who will be involved, such as party agents, CARICOM officials, observers, and GECOM officials, as provided for in Section 86 of the Representation of the People Act.
In view of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the need for physical distancing to prevent the spread of the deadly disease, GECOM, in consultation with the National COVID-19 Task Force (NCTF), has agreed that there will be no more than 14 persons assigned to a workstation at any given time.
Alexander told reporters that key to the plan is the tabulation process. According to the approved plan, the votes cast in District Four (Demerara-Mahaica) will be tabulated simultaneously with other districts. Of the 10 work stations, three (3) will be assigned to District Four, the country’s largest electoral region.
It was also explained that at each workstation, the process would be initiated with a checklist to ascertain the contents of a ballot box. Once that is done, the ballots would be counted in a manner similar to the process employed at Polling Stations at the close of poll.
“When that is done, they will have tally sheets, and they will use those tally sheets to create what is called a SOR (Statement of Recount). In addition to the Statement of Recount, per say, there will be the checklist and there will also be another form provided for any anomalies that we may have noted going through the checklist, and going through the box, so those will be the three submissions. Those submissions will then go for tabulation in a matrix, at the level of the particular district,” Alexander explained.
Importantly, Alexander noted that there will be one final declaration at the end of the tabulation process. “It was agreed that we will have one final declaration,” he posited.
Notably, during the counting of the ballots within the workstations, there will be no live-streaming, as that would be in contravention of Section 90 of the Representation of the People Act, which provides for the maintenance of secrecy during the process. Section 90 states: “Every person attending at the counting of votes shall maintain, and shall not communicate any information obtained at the count as to the list of candidates for which any vote has been given.”
However, results tabulated would be broadcast periodically by the Elections. A final declaration of the results will also be made by the Commission, in accordance with the Constitution and the Electoral Laws of Guyana, thereby paving the way for a President to be sworn in. Until that is done, President David Granger remains President.