…water-logged box from Region One still to dry
WITH over 400 ballot boxes processed to date since the start of the National Recount, of which 98 are from Region One (Barima-Waini), the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) may now have to make a difficult decision on how it will deal with the contents of the final box from that district, if they cannot be retrieved having been soaked.
The ballot box, in question, came from Kariako, Moruca, Region One. Upon the opening of one of the containers on Wednesday May 6 at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre (ACCC), the box was discovered with water in side due to a hole in the container. In making the disclosure then, GECOM’s Public Relations Officer Yolanda Ward said the contents of the box inclusive of ballots had been submerged in water. A decision was taken to drain the water out but not to open the box until it was time to count the votes from that polling block. Kariako has a voting population of less than 200 electorates.
On Thursday, more than one week after the discovery was made, the Elections Commission took a decision to open the ballot box with the intention of completing the recounting process for Region One. There are a total of 99 ballot boxes from Region One.
During a press briefing on the outskirts of the Conference Centre, where the recount is unfolding, Ward said the contents of the box were placed in the sun, a secured spot to dry. “So as we speak those contents are out of the box and placed into the sun, to see what we might be able to discern later this afternoon,” Ward said.
Once dried, the Elections Commission, led by Justice (Ret’d) Claudette Singh, will examine the contents of the box so as to determine whether the Secretariat can proceed to count the ballots therein.
Asked what are the options available to the Commission in the event that the water damaged documents cannot be salvaged, Ward, in her response, said it is not for her to preempt the decision of the Elections Commission. “I think the Commission in its wisdom would have some fruitful deliberations on what would be the best decision in the interest of those electors whose votes are contained in that box. I am sure that they will be able to make a wise decision on that,” Ward told reporters when pressed for answers. It’s all up to the Elections Commission she iterated.
REVERT TO THE SOP
Weighing in on the issue during a separate interview with the press, Elections Commissioner Sase Gunraj confirmed that the majority of the Commission inspected the waterlogged documents that were in the ballot box from Kariako. “The contents are being dried and as optimistic that I would like to be I am not sure how much would be retrieved or how much of the content could be retrieved from that box to ascertain, for the purposes of a recount,” Gunraj said.
He proffered, however, that in the event the documents could not be salvage, the Elections Commission could revert to the Statement of Poll (SOP) for that electoral block. “So in the scenario that we cannot retrieve the contents of the box after it would have dried, etc, to count it then we can resort to the Statement of Poll,” Gunraj suggested. According to him of the 98 ballot boxes processed from District One, there has been no significant change in the contents of those boxes when compared with the Statements of Poll, initially published, and that of the Statements of Recount. “If you look at the trend, there have been no significant changes in the results particularly from that district in relation to the Statements of Poll and the Statements of Recount,” he submitted.
BY-ELECTIONS BEST OPTION
But Elections Commissioner Vincent Alexander disagreed with the proposal made by Gunraj while offering another school of thought.
“I must confess that I have not been conclusive in my thought on this matter. A thought was brought up that probably in the case of that box we should go back to the SOP. My response was that that is a very practical approach,” Alexander said when asked what would be the Commission’s next steps in the event that the documents cannot be recovered.
However, he added: “It’s a practical approach that would run in the face of the objective of the exercise. You can’t be doing a recount and for one reason or the other resort to the old count as a basis of determining that which you are recounting. So there is a contradiction there. So while I accept it is a very practical approach, I see a difficulty with that because it flies in the face of the very concept of a recount.”
Pressed for another solution that could be possibly considered by the Elections Commission, Alexander suggested by-election within the electoral block from which the box came. “It is not impossible,” he posited while noting that the number of electors in the area is approximately 200 or less.
But this proposal did not sit well with Commissioner Gunraj, who told reporters “I don’t believe the law caters for it.”
Nonetheless, the Elections Commission is likely to deliberate on waterlogged documents today with the hope of arriving at a decision on how to proceed soon.
THE START OF A NEW REGION
Notwithstanding that challenge, GECOM Secretariat is increasing the pace at which it is recounting the ballots within the ballot boxes, and with Region One almost completed, on Thursday, it commenced the counting of ballots from Region Five (Mahaica-Berbice).
“So now that Region One has been completed with the exception of that box, the two workstations that were initially assigned for the counting of Region One, they have commenced the count for Region 5,” GECOM’s PRO explained.
On Thursday – Day 9 of the National Recount of the votes cast at the General and Regional Elections – a total of 54 ballot boxes were processed from Region One (Barima-Waini), Region Two (Pomeroon-Supenaam), Region Three (Essequibo Islands-West Demerara), Region Four (Demerara-Mahaica) and Region 5 (Mahaica-Berbice).
Of that lot, 5 were from Region One, 11 from Region Two, 17 from Region Three, 14 from Region Four and seven from Region Five. When added to those completed days prior, the figures show that 421 ballot boxes have been processed to date from a total of 2,339.
As one region is completed, another region is added. There are a total of 10 Electoral Districts with Region Four being the largest with 879 ballot boxes, and as such, that district’s votes will continue to be simultaneously tabulated alongside the other regions.
Ward said in addition to the steps being taken to increase the number of workstations so as to increase the pace at which the ballot boxes are being processed, the Elections Commission revised the Checklist for the Recount, thereby removing three items that are considered irrelevant to the process.
It has also compiled a list of 28 issues, which have arisen since the start of the recount, and offered solutions, so as to reduce the time spent on a single ballot box. “And so now that everyone hopefully is on the same page, we are closer and closer to minimizing and eradicating a lot of those issues that came up in the first week of this activity. So going forward we do not anticipate any major challenges in this regard. We hope that the decision of the Commission will really help us to position our self to really accelerate this process so that it comes to an expeditious exercise,” Ward told reporters.
The Elections Commission decided on a National Recount having faced a number of challenges. In its order, gazette on May4, it explained that though the declarations of the results were made in accordance with Section 84 (1) of the Representation of the People Act, requests for recounts in a number of electoral districts were rejected, aborted, or held in abeyance. Further to that, a report detailing the results of the elections was submitted to the Chairman of the Elections Commission but that too was held in abeyance, and aspects of the election process challenged in the Court.