…but concludes that elections results should be declared
THOUGH acknowledging that it only scrutinised 18% of the ballots counted during the recount process, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Observation Team, in its report to the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), said the 2020 General and Regional Elections were not without defects, but it will not thwart the will of the people.
“Overall, while we acknowledge that there were some defects in the recount of the March 2, 2020 votes cast for the General and Regional Elections in Guyana, the Team did not witness anything which would render the recount, and by extension the casting of the ballot on March 2, so grievously deficient, procedurally or technically (despite some irregularities), or sufficiently deficient to have thwarted the will of the people…,” the three member delegation said in the report.
IN STARK CONTRAST
The CARICOM team’s report, however, is in stark contrast to that of the Chief Elections Officer’s, which highlighted a plethora of anomalies and cases of electoral fraud in the form of voter impersonation. In fact, Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield, in his report, said that due to the anomalies and instances of voter impersonation, the Elections did not satisfy the criteria of impartiality, fairness and compliance with the Constitution and the Representation of the People Act. On that basis, he said it could not be ascertained that the elections were free and credible.
But, notwithstanding more 7,000 anomalies and allegations of voter impersonation that, according to the CEO, have compromised well over 200,000 votes, the CARICOM delegation (which comprised Senior Lecturer in the Department of Government at the University of the West Indies, Cynthia Barrow-Giles; Commissioner of the Antigua and Barbuda Electoral Commission, John Jarvis; and Deputy Supervisor of Elections of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Sylvester King) said the elections results should be declared by the Elections Commission.
“The Team does not view the irregularities identified amounted to sufficient grounds to invalidate the tabulation of the votes at the recount, and therefore these irregularities DO NOT constitute sufficient grounds to challenge the integrity of the recount process.
While there were some irregularities, and violations of the Gazetted Order and work processes as outlined by GECOM, these were insubstantial. We found no intentional miscounting of the ballots which would constitute an election fraud necessitating further action,” the CARICOM Observers said as they made a case for the results of the elections to be declared, based on the recounted votes.
‘MORE OF AN AUDIT’
“The actual count of the vote was indeed transparent,” the three-member delegation posited, while referencing the process as a “so-called recount”. In the eyes of the three-member delegation, the National Recount, which lasted from March 6 to June 7, 2020, was more of an audit.
While the CEO’s Report points to clear breaches of the Constitution and the Representation of the People Act, the CARICOM Team, after observing just 423 ballot boxes or 18.08% of a total of 2,339 boxes, concluded that there was nothing to suggest that GECOM’s Polling Day workers conducted themselves in a manner which indicate illegality, or a deliberate intent to benefit a particular list of candidates over another. It, however, acknowledged that towards the end of the Recount, which was conducted at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre (ACCC), several boxes were void of statutory documents. According to the CEO, there were 47 such boxes that had no Official List of Electors, Counterfoils, Poll Books, Unused Ballots, Certificates of Employment, Oaths of Identity or other critical documents. Such a situation, the Observers said, was “troubling” but not grave enough to render the recount or the elections fatal. However, they said that a serious investigation by GECOM is needed to ascertain the reason behind the missing documents. Aside from the more than 2,000 anomalies cited by GECOM staff during the recount, the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) unearthed approximately 4,800 cases of voter impersonation, in which unscrupulous people voted in the place of the deceased or Guyanese who were out of the jurisdiction on Elections Day. In his report, the CEO said the claims were substantiated when the Immigration and Death Records were checked, as provided for by the Chief Immigration Officer and the General Registrar’s Office.
But the CARICOM officials dubbed APNU+AFC’s search for the truth “bizarre”. “The numerous requests for information on serial numbers were so bizarre, that on one observed occasion, an APNU+AFC agent was prepared to query serial numbers on the OLE in a workstation where no one had voted. These challenges were often made on the grounds of death and migration,” it explained.
‘A FISHING EXPEDITION’
As they went on to say in their report, what the APNU+AFC did in their quest for the truth was nothing but a “fishing expedition” designed to gather information for a likely election petition, which resulted in considerable time being wasted during the National Recount. “Furthermore, the net was cast extremely wide, in the hope of at least making a small catch, and at times the anticipated harvest ended in slim pickings,” the CARICOM Observers said as it denounced the actions of the ruling Coalition. “The team did not view the objections raised by the APNU+AFC as materially relevant to the recount of the ballot, though these objections, based on the information provided by GECOM to the party agents, signaled the possibility of a padded voters list, which GECOM, as a body, must deal with expeditiously,” the Observers said, while noting that from where they stand, it is unclear who were the ultimate beneficiaries of the alleged “ghost voting and voter impersonation”.
The CARICOM Observers said the administrative shortfalls were that of GECOM, and not as a result of the electorates, as they categorically rejected what was described as “concerted public efforts to discredit” the 2020 Elections.
“Despite our concerns, nothing that we witnessed warrants a challenge to the inescapable conclusion that the recount results are acceptable and should constitute the basis of the declaration of the results of the March 02, 2020 elections,” they concluded, while positing that any aggrieved political party can seek redress before the courts in the form of an Election Petition.
The CARICOM Observation Team’s Report on the National Recount was submitted to the Chair of GECOM, Justice (Ret’d) Claudette Singh on Monday. Hours later, CARICOM Secretary-General, Ambassador Irwin LaRocque issued a statement acknowledging receipt of the report.
According to the statement, the Secretary-General thanked the team for the commitment, professionalism and integrity with which they undertook an arduous task over the past six weeks. CARICOM Chair Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados, also thanked the team for their service to Guyana and the wider Community, particularly being away from their families at this difficult time during the COVID-19 pandemic.