Unstamped ballots may be attributed to careless Presiding Officers

by George Barclay
Guyana Chronicle
March 23, 2000

CHIEF Elections Officer (CEO) Mr Stanley Singh yesterday told the Esther Perreira Elections Commission that the discovery of unstamped ballot papers in the ballot boxes might have been due to careless Presiding Officers who turned up at their Polling Stations without stamp and stamp pads.

The CEO, who was experiencing his fourth day of cross-examination before Justice Claudette Singh, also admitted knowledge about a few Statements of Poll with questionable signatures.

But he would not go as far as to describe those documents as forgeries, he told Senior Counsel Rex McKay who is appearing for Respondent Mr Desmond Hoyte.

Mr Singh also admitted that in some cases, unsigned Statements of Poll (SOPs), unstamped SOPs and reconstructed SOPs were counted, in arriving at the final results and declaration.

Further cross-examined on the resumption yesterday, the Chief Elections Officer reported to the Court that he had brought the response to a letter he had sent to Ms Donna Harris who had written him on the subject of `Computer Report on Elections Results'.

The reply read in part, "I must hasten to assure you that I was not at all oblivious of events on January 12 or on any other day for that matter.

"On January 12, 13 and 14 when enquiries were made with regards to transport needs for the Computer section it was discovered that the section was closed.

"Your memorandum of January 14 is the first reliable information I have received with regards to threats etc to staff members. It would appear that informing me of such events are considered even a courtesy in futility.

"However, I will continue to provide transport for workers after work daily until more can be done.

"I requested of the Computer section a print-out of Elections Results as submitted to me by each Returning Officer.

"These happen to be the official submissions that the Chief Elections Officer, in accordance with the relevant sections of law, is authorised to use in compiling the official results. My real interest was having these reports properly done for convenience.

"However , other sections have doubled up and this exercise is almost completed.

"In the meantime, feel free to use whatever help I am trusted to complete any tasks assigned the Computer section by persons authorised to do so."

After Mr Singh had read his response to the Court, Mr Rex McKay requested the CEO to read the letter that Ms Harris had sent him and to see whether he had addressed the most important point she had complained about - discrepancies between the ballot boxes numbers that were used in compiling the results and the box numbers used by some Presiding Officers.

Mr Singh said that he did not address that in his letter of January 15, 1999. He said that he sought to address certain issues which he thought were relevant to the time.

Asked by McKay why he did not address the main point in the letter, witness said that when he wrote the letter on January 15, he had all the Returning Officers Returns but pointed out that he wanted a Computer print-out as well

He also said that the Elections results had already been declared by January 15.

The CEO agreed that Statements of Poll and the Ballot Boxes were very important to the elections.

Witness agreed that the Commission's Audit Report had said that the Statements of Poll were inadequately managed.

He also agreed that the Audit team had said the vast majority of SOPs were said to be submitted rather than placed in the ballot boxes, and yet many originals were unavailable for review.

The CEO noted that "handed in" and "submitted" amounted to the same thing. In the final analysis, the SOPs had to be handed in.

In answer to further questions, witness said that he did not recall the Chairman of the Elections Commission, Mr Doodnauth Singh, SC making a statement that he could not make a declaration because many of the SOPs were locked in the ballot boxes.

But witness admitted that he had knowledge that some of the Statements of Poll were locked up in the ballot boxes.

He said that the SOPs for Region Four were placed in two ballot boxes at the Demerara Bank, Ltd.

Witness could not remember giving specific instructions to the Presiding Officers that the results should be read out or declared by either the Presiding Officer or the Returning Officer.

Mr Singh disagreed with Mr McKay that if he did not give such instructions it would have been a serious flaw and breach of Article 84; 1 of the Act.

But the CEO admitted that the manual sent out by the Elections Commission had indicated that each Presiding Officer must publicly declare the votes at the place of poll.

Asked by McKay why was it necessary to place those instructions in the manual witness answered:-

"It was claimed in the past that the actual results of poll were manipulated between the place of Poll and the place of count. The new system sought to correct the problem by means of verification," he said.

At this stage, Mr McKay pointed out to the witness that Returning Officers, who had given evidence, had said that they had made no public declaration after the count.

Witness said that he was so informed.

Questioned about unsigned Statements of Poll witness said that he was not in a position to state the number of SOPs involved.

Witness said that he remembered that in Region Four alone there were 160 unsigned Statements of Poll.

Asked whether the unsigned Statements of Poll were not manufactured or manipulated, witness disclosed that for reasons still unclear, crucial advice at the last moment was ignored by some Presiding Officers resulting in some SOPs being placed in ballot boxes.

Witness agreed that whether it was one SOP or 101, it was an error.

Witness disclosed that there are Statements of Poll for each polling station in the Elections Commission compound.

This drew the observation from Mr McKay "The same compound that was found not fit to keep them earlier, resulting in their having had to be sent to the Demerara Bank?"

Mr Doodnauth Singh, SC, lawyer for the Commission whispered, "Rex you know full well that they are now in containers."

In answer to further questions, witness said that he did not have a record of the total number of reconstructed Statements of Poll nor the number of SOPs that were rewritten.

He admitted that from the rewritten Statements of Poll, the votes for each political party were counted and formed part of the votes declared.

When shown rewritten, unsigned, reconstructed and undated Statements of Poll, witness accepted that the documents emanated from the Elections Commission.

But he disagreed that SOPs which bore signatures of unidentified persons were forged and said that that was a matter for the Court or the Police to find.

When reminded about the documents with the signatures, Mr Singh added, "The signatures raised suspicion in my mind, but I would not go as far as to say that there was a forgery."

In answer to further questions he said, "I am not in a position to say how many votes from forged SOPs formed part of the elections.

"If the documents that you showed me were forged documents, they would form part of the results because they were counted.

"I agree that they were unstamped ballots in the ballots boxes. Part of my instructions with respect to the ballots were that they should be stamped, and there was an obvious reason for that - to ensure that the ballots issued by the Presiding Officers were the ballots that were used and placed in the ballots box. In other words, to prevent ballots being manufactured."

Witness giving a reason why unstamped ballots were found said, "There are a few instances where Presiding Officers were careless when collecting their materials and would have arrived at the place of Poll on Election Day to find themselves without stamps and stamp pads." Witness went on to answer that all election materials were issued in bulk to the Returning Officers by the Elections Commission.

The hearing continues today.