IN the wake of the Court of Appeal’s ruling that the declaration of a president must be premised on “valid votes” the Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield, has submitted his report to GECOM’s Chair for consideration by the Commissioners. This is the second report submitted by the CEO within the last few days. The first report was rejected by a majority of the commissioners on the grounds that it did not utilize the numerical report of the recount. He was subsequently asked to prepare another report based on the latter. But before he could comply with that request, Eslyn David moved to the Court of Appeal to ask the court to find that only valid votes could be used for a declaration of the president.
The court, last Monday, ruled in David’s favour and, in the process, ordered GECOM to consider only valid votes in its determination of the winning candidate. While the court did not explicitly define what is a valid vote, it drew attention to Order 60 or what is popularly known as the Recount Order. That order explicitly defined the validity of a vote within the context of the election’s credibility. A valid vote therefore is a credible vote based on the criteria set out by the Order.
As the Order States in part “ And whereas the Guyana Elections Commission, in exercise of the authority vested in it under Article 162 of the Constitution and pursuant to Section 22 of the Elections Laws (Amendment) Act, No. 15 of 2000, seeks to remove difficulties connected with the application of the Representation of the People Act, Chapter 1:03, in implementing its decisions relating to the conduct of the aforementioned recount of all ballots cast at the said elections, including the reconciliation of the ballots issued with the ballots cast, destroyed, spoiled, stamped, and as deemed necessary, their counterfoils/ stubs; authenticity of the ballots and the number of voters listed and crossed out as having voted; the number of votes cast without ID cards; the number of proxies issued and the number utilized; statistical anomalies; occurrences recorded in the Poll Book.”
So, Lowenfield has now produced a report based on the ruling of the Court of Appeal— it is based on valid votes. The report gives the APNU+AFC a one seat majority (33 seats), with the PPP/C (31 seats) and the three smaller parties (1 seat) sharing the remainder of the 65 seats. This new report differs from the previous one in two ways. First, unlike the first report which could only validate approximately 40% of the votes cast, this new report validated 75 per cent . Second, whereas the first report asked GECOM to consider annulling the elections, this report suggests the declaration of a winner.
The basis for the difference between the two reports is the Court of Appeal ruling which has changed the dynamics. The ruling provides a level of clarity that was not there before. Towards this end, it discards the suggestion that a declaration can be made based solely on the quantitative aspect of the recount. It therefore empowers the CEO to take into consideration the qualitative aspects of the outcome of the recount.
Finally, the report appears to have removed only those votes that can be easily invalidated such as those which cannot be reconciled by the necessary statutory documents and those that involved voter impersonation. This in turn eliminates the charge that he has removed votes that are based on allegations and that are not investigated. The cry that the report disenfranchises 25 per cent of the votes does not hold water. It is not a case of disenfranchisement; it is one of validity of the votes. Removing votes that cannot be reconciled does not logically lead to disenfranchisement. Rather, permitting invalid votes logically leads to disenfranchising a large section of the electorate of the government.