Patience, order in West Demerara voting
- minor setbacks reported
by Yondell Proffit
March 20, 2001
MOST residents of West Bank Demerara peacefully went to the polls yesterday but there were minor setbacks as some voters encountered problems finding their names on the official list of electors.
When the Chronicle visited several polling places at Canal Numbers One and Two and other areas on the West Bank, all seemed to be going according to plan as election officials patiently and carefully carried out their duties.
One by one, as it was ought to be, eligible voters in those areas were given instructions as to the procedure of the voting system prior to and after casting their votes.
As time passed and the rays of the sun became stronger, voters grew in number. Some carrying large bottles of water, others just `burning it out in the sun.'
Nevertheless, the lines remained straight and the people waited in an orderly manner until it was their turn to exercise their constitutional right to vote.
In areas such as Bagotsville and Wales, there were minor complaints about the pace of the election process, but those were alleviated as officials kindly asked voters to be patient.
"We are moving as fast as we can, so please bear with us," one official announced.
In other communities, also on the West Bank, there were other complaints made by the Presiding Officers who expressed dissatisfaction with the maintenance of communication links with GECOM.
"In these areas there are hardly any telephones so we cannot make contact with the relevant authorities if need be," one official said.
In the small village of Toevlugt-Patentia, minor setbacks arose as a few residents made claims that they were in possession of their national voter identification cards but that their names were not on the list.
However, a GECOM official who was at that polling place immediately dealt with the complainants after realising that the voters' names were on another list at a polling place two buildings away.
The election process continued throughout the day with no major hiccups.
However, there were some rumblings as polling places closed their doors at exactly 18:00 hrs despite an announcement by GECOM to extend that deadline until further notice.
GECOM shortly after announced that the polls closed exactly at 18:00 hrs and only those persons waiting in line to vote would have been allowed to do so.
An officer in the Stanleytown area, also on the West Bank, told this newspaper that most of the other officers were not aware that an announcement had been made to extend the deadline.
She said that she was about to dismiss the polling clerks when she heard of the declaration.
West Berbice calm after Belladrum demonstration By Clifford Stanley POLLING in Region Five (Mahaica/Berbice) was generally incident-free except for a situation at Belladrum, West Coast Berbice where about 300 persons demonstrated outside the polling station there.
The demonstrators were supportive of the claims by some 17 persons that they were disenfranchised.
The 17 said they were all refused the right to vote on the grounds that they were members of the Disciplined Services and as such, had already exercised their franchise on March 12 when the Disciplined Services voted.
They, however, claimed that they were not members of the Disciplined Services and that they had not voted on March 12.
This newspaper understands that the demonstrations continued throughout the day and into the evening but Police kept watch.
It was reported that the demonstrators dispersed shortly after being assured by GECOM that the matter will be dealt with at the appropriate level.
There were no other reported incidents in District Five and the polls finally closed at 19:45 hrs in Belladrum.
By that time, calm and normalcy prevailed.
Early, peaceful voting in Region Six by Calvin Marshall LONG before the scheduled close of polls, voting ground to a slow halt in several small communities and a few other polling stations in Region Six (East Berbice/Corentyne).
But some voters were in a late rush to cast their ballots, in some instances 15 minutes before the scheduled close at 18:00 hrs.
Berbicians said they heard GECOM's announcement of an extension of the closing time but polling places had already closed.
Reports reaching the Chronicle say that there was also a heavy voter turnout in the four schemes in Black Bush Polder - Yakusari, Lesbeholden, Mibicuri and Joanna.
A number of voters in a section of East Canje had complained that they were being disenfranchised because of a mix-up resulting in their names being omitted from the voters list or being printed on lists in other regions, and faulty identification cards.
Efforts to have some of these matters addressed by the Returning Officer for the region were futile, this newspaper learnt.
At the end of polling, no incidents had been reported.
Earlier in the day, voters turned out in numbers in mostly fair weather to exercise their franchise. Some were at polling stations as early as 06:00 hrs, the time polling stations were opened for voting.
Though the pattern of attendance differed in various communities, a notable feature of the electorate in this constituency was the conscious and civil manner in which they went about their duty.
In the Upper Corentyne, a heavy voter turnout was evident at Crabwood Creek, which kept polling agents busy for the most part of the mid-morning.
There were also sizeable crowds waiting at Numbers 71 and 63 Villages, Port Mourant and other places on the Corentyne. In other areas, there was a constant trek of voters to polling stations.
Business at Crabwood Creek, which borders Suriname and is known for its hectic commercial activities, was at a virtual standstill as more interest was shown in voting than trading.
This was unlike New Amsterdam, the main Berbice town where commerce seemed uninterrupted.
Early buildup at some of the polling stations was also evident in New Amsterdam.
Most of the polling centres were opened for the 06:00 hrs start, except for a centre at Adelphi, East Canje, which opened five minutes late while about 24 voters waited patiently for officials to arrive.
A few isolated cases of persons whose names did not appear on the final voters list or the subsidiary list were reported.
Voting, however, was peaceful and quiet up to the time of reporting throughout the town.
Big voter turnout on East Bank Demerara By Stacey Davidson RESIDENTS on the East Bank Demerara turned out in big numbers to cast their ballots yesterday.
There were some minor problems with some persons reporting their names were not on the final voters list but on the addendum. They were subsequently allowed to vote.
At the Golden Grove Primary School, there were queues of persons, some uncertain which subdivision to go to. But they were quickly assisted by polling officers who tried their best to help persons get to the correct subdivisions according to their districts.
Many persons turned out early in the Grove area and at about mid-morning most of them had returned home after voting. Some milled around speculating on the outcome of the results.
Others seemed not to be bothered, contented in just casting their ballots and returning home to relax.
It was a very quiet day in this part of the country as persons went about their usual duties in addition to voting. Many shops were opened for business.
The majority of the mostly young voters seemed very enthusiastic to vote and waited patiently to cast their ballots.
But the wait was not long as the process was very efficient.
At Prospect, scrutineers representing political parties were placed at various locations along the roadside to assist persons in checking the list to ensure their names were on before they proceeded to the Covent Garden Secondary School to cast their ballots.
This system also seemed to work expeditiously, as persons were quickly informed whether their names were present on the list or otherwise and then advised where to look for their names.
Over at the Providence Primary School, there was also a long line there but no major problems reported.
Observers were evident at all the polling stations, ensuring that everything went well.
At St Anne's Primary School in Agricola, there were not many residents when the `Chronicle' visited but there were reports that a small number of persons encountered problems because their names were listed in other regions.
These persons were considered special cases and had to be dealt with by the observers.
There were instances where there was a shortage of forms for proxy voting, which caused some problems but these were quickly solved.
Despite these minor hiccups, the process proceeded smoothly.
Many persons were given the day off from their places of employment to vote, while some cast their ballots before going to work.
A brief downpour of rain did not prevent residents of Agricola from exercising their democratic right in selecting a government of their choice.
Some braved the rain, while others went to polling places under umbrellas and other forms of shelter.
By 18:00 hrs, the official time for the close of poll prior to a last-minute reported extension by GECOM, the majority of persons had already voted and officials were counting ballots.
Again, no major problems were reported at centres in these areas at the close of poll.
Region Ten voters cast ballots early - dried ink, late arrival of papers cause hiccups By Joe Chapman BY MIDDAY yesterday, nearly 50 per cent of the electorate of Region Ten (Upper Demerara/Berbice) had cast ballots in the polls and Returning Officer, Mr Nelson Bakker said the tallying of results should be completed by today.
Speaking to reporters at his office on Republic Avenue, Bakker said, "people were out early at most polling places and we had a steady flow with between 40 to 50 per cent of the electorate voting".
With the exception of two polling places, the process went on as planned after the scheduled 06:00 hrs start.
Dried ink at two polling centres at the Mackenzie High School and the late arrival of ballot boxes because of security reasons at Wisroc Nursery School led to hiccups at these two polling places.
By mid-morning, Bakker had visited some polling places, which account for more than 75 per cent of the electorate or 17,000 of the nearly 22,000 in Region Ten.
There was an initial build-up of voters at polling stations, particularly at Amelia's Ward, Kara Kara Primary School and Mackenzie High School on the east bank of Linden.
On the western side, there were build-ups at the Christianburg Primary and New Silver City Secondary Schools where heavy polling was expected, these being the larger divisions in Linden.
Bakker said that there were a few discontented persons whose names did not appear on the voters list.
Some were holders of the new identification cards, some had just stubs and some claimed to have registered but had not received cards.
None were allowed to cast their ballot, Bakker said, unless GECOM had issued a new directive.
What was refreshing, Bakker noted, was that there were no reported incidents of disruptions at any of the polling places.
He hoped that the situation would have remained peaceful until the close of poll and after the results were announced.
Bakker made it clear that GECOM had not set out to disenfranchise nor discriminate against anyone.
As the Chronicle visited most of the polling places on the west bank of Linden, voting progressed smoothly and queues were down to a trickle by midday.
But Bakker anticipated build-ups all over Region Ten as the 18:00 hrs close of poll neared.
A number of observers, including those from the Carter Center, the Organisation of American States, the European Union and CARICOM, were seen around Linden.
Questioned on how early he expects to be able to confirm results in the region, Bakker said it depends on the submission of reports from polling stations.
The smaller stations were expected to have had their final counts by 20:00 hrs, while those in interior areas and up the Berbice and Demerara Rivers would most likely have their final tallies today.
However, around Linden all the results were expected to be in by 22:00 hrs, Bakker reported.
Number of electorates in District Ten when the Final Voters List was published. LINDEN 17,324 - 77.12%
KWAKWANI 1,634 - 7.27%
UPPER BERBICE RIVER 1,000 - 4.45%
LOWER BERBICE RIVER 879 - 3.91%
INTERIOR 736 - 3.27%
ITUNI 358 - 1.59%
ESSEQUIBO RIVER 329 - 1.46%
DEMERARA RIVER 120 - 0.53%
HIGHWAY 82 - 0.36%
The revised number before polling had been adjusted with the addendum totalling 21,765. By and large the percentage may not vary after these adjustments.
Police keep close watch at polling centres By Amanda Wilson UP TO press time yesterday, Police Commissioner Laurie Lewis reported no major disturbances at polling stations countrywide but assured that ranks were on guard at four centres where small groups had gathered.
The Commissioner said that there were some minor incidents at polling centres where persons made threats but that no one was arrested.
Lewis said that cops stationed at centres were to remain there most of the night and that ranks were keeping a close watch at four Georgetown and West Demerara stations where small groups had gathered.
A disturbance at a polling place at Belladrum Village, West Coast Berbice was reported but was neutralised by ranks in that area shortly after.
Long lines of voters were seen outside some polling places in South Ruimveldt and Kitty as GECOM officials promptly closed the stations at 18:00 hrs.
However, some late voters were given a chance to exercise their franchise after GECOM, in a television announcement, extended the official closing time.
GECOM shortly later said the polls had officially closed at 18:00 hrs but that those still in line would have been allowed to vote.
In the city, especially along Regent Street, workers were seen securing some buildings with steel grills and ply boards.
One city businessman explained that his building was damaged during the 1997 election protests and that he was taking preventative measures.
In addition, employees were sent home early and some said that they may not be returning to work today.
Even some vendors took the day off.
Meanwhile, the Electoral Assistance Bureau and GECOM yesterday reported that the public responded well to their hotline systems set up to assist voters with last minute queries.
An EAB representative said the staff at that centre started working at 06:30 hrs and that phone lines were occupied throughout the day.
Smooth voting in Campbellville by Jaime Hall UNLIKE some other polling stations in Region Four (Demerara/Mahaica), the voting process at the Campbellville Secondary School, sub-district 413232 was relatively smooth.
The polling centre was declared open at 06:00 hrs sharp and very little hiccups were reported.
As people proceeded to vote, those were sorted out.
About 5:45 hrs, about 300 persons had formed long lines which led to their respective district stations around the school compound.
Although voting started out smoothly, many people complained that the process was very slow.
As the crowd began to build up, some people discovered that they were in the wrong lines even though handouts with district numbers listed were distributed when national identification cards were issued.
This problem was sorted out after voters were informed by polling officials to follow the district numbering system, which was displayed outside the building.
Order was maintained throughout the day. Law enforcement officers, as well as overseas observers, were present at the polling station.
Representatives of the contesting parties also made periodic visits to the centre.
Shortly before the polls were officially declared closed at 18:00 hrs, there was a small crowd of people standing outside the doors of the centre.
They were angry because they were not allowed to vote.
Some said that despite several checks with GECOM officials to ensure that their names appear on the final voters list, this did not happen.
One Campbellville resident reported that even though she registered at the Campbellville Secondary School, her name along with those of 14 others from District Four appeared at Linden.
She said they all went there to vote but only two of them were allowed to exercise that right.
One other Campbellville resident who travelled to Linden to vote found that on his arrival at the polling place there, somebody else had voted in his place.
The polls were officially declared closed at 18:00 hrs.
And while law enforcement officers were advising the crowd to leave the compound, the Deputy Returning Officer announced that she was advised by GECOM that polling will be allowed to continue until further notice.
"The Commission made this decision to facilitate those persons who have their ID cards but their names were not on the voting list", she stated.
Representatives of political parties and overseas observers were also there at the time of the announcement.
But that announcement could not help many of the Campbellville residents because they had no other forms of identification apart from the national identification card GECOM was issuing.
Very few persons turned up at the polling station and were allowed to vote following the announcement that polling was extended.
DAVINDRA Balgobin, 23, of Goedverwagting, East Coast Demerara, said he was determined to vote yesterday.
He said when he left his home shortly after 6:00 hrs, the last thing he would have imagined was finding himself all the way up on the Corentyne Coast to cast his ballot.
But it turned out he ended up doing so, and incredibly was back in Georgetown well before the scheduled 18:00 hrs (6 p.m.) close of polls.
For several days, he said, he kept trekking back and forth between Plaisance, East Coast Demerara, where he had registered and other nearby stations but could not find his name on the lists.
As the countdown to polling day narrowed, he intensified his search, but to no avail.
The slim built and absolutely tired young man said he had a full day of running around yesterday.
But he did not give up, and was determined that he should take advantage of his constitutional right to vote.
Davindra said that on Sunday at 17:00 hrs he left work at Melanie Damishana and hastened back to Plaisance to see if they had good word for him.
Recounting his ordeal, he said that he set out in the "pouring rain" and headed back for Plaisance Community High School, only to be told that his name had not showed up on the supplementary list.
However, he was advised to turn up at the polling station yesterday morning with his stub, "and deh gun see if the card come there, and ah gun get to vote."
By then it was all 'butterflies in his tummy', and on arriving at the Plaisance polling station yesterday morning he received the final word. "Your name not on the list. You can't vote", he said he was told.
He left the station, feeling very distraught, and headed down to Freedom House, headquarters of the People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) where he made his predicament known.
On making a perusal, the officials there told him that he was numbered among the electorate, but his name was on a list in Overwinning, Corentyne, the eastern border region with Suriname.
By then the beleaguered Davindra was practically drained of energy. Not being prepared for such extensive travelling, he was financially embarrassed, but activists at Freedom House assisted him with his return fare to Corentyne, he said.
Around 9:30 hours, he set out on his lengthy journey to the Corentyne and arrived there around 13:00 hours (1.00 p.m.) - tired and hungry.
He said he had no idea where the place was, but sought direction and got there safely, found his name on the list and voted.
"Ah was hungry," he related yesterday afternoon. "All ah eat was about two biscuits, and a drink."
He set out on his return journey to Georgetown around 14:00 hours (2.00 p.m.).
Meanwhile, his relatives had no idea of the marathon travel he had undertaken, he said.
But even though eminently tired, Davindra, having emerged victorious, said that he was happy he did not bow to pressure and give up the fight.
For him, throughout the experience, nothing mattered more than being able to vote, and vote he did.
The youngest of six electors in his home, he said that an elder brother who had registered at Baganarra in the interior was unable to vote, since it was logistically difficult for him to get there.
Hiccups at some polling stations by Shirley Thomas VOTING in Central Georgetown and its immediate environs got off to a good start yesterday and by 06:00 hrs there were long queues outside polling stations.
Presidential candidate for the Justice For All Party, Mr. Chandra Naraine Sharma and an entourage which included General Secretary, Ms Savitri Singh were among the early voters at St. George's Secondary School on North Road.
Sharma said his party had been receiving calls from several stations that the names of some persons were not on the voters list.
"There are a lot of complaints that people's names are not on the list, and this is very sad," he said.
For the first three hours or so, voting at the majority of polling stations visited by the Chronicle went on smoothly, and polling officials seemed heartened.
But by mid morning the situation had changed as persons began turning up at the stations only to be told they could not vote for the following reasons:
** Names not found on the Official List of Electors ** Names on the list, and voter identification produced, but polling clerks reportedly could not find MRCs (Mster Registration Cards). ** Construction workers on time-off from job told they were not properly dressed to enter poll station. ** Those without identification card, but persons to identify them told that no MRCs were available for them. ** Persons reportedly told that their names were in Linden, Bartica and Kwakwani.
Another snag was that soon after the commencement of voting, ink in stamp pads had dried up, leaving poll clerks at their wits end to continue their work.
Many persons at Liana Primary, for example, claimed they were caught up in this, and the clerks resorted to using their pens until ink for the stamp pads was obtained.
Those affected were primarily from Lodge, East La Penitence, East and West Ruimveldt, and North and South Ruimveldt.
At 11:20 hrs, Presidential candidate for the People's National Congress REFORM, Mr. Desmond Hoyte, who was visiting polling stations, was greeted outside the Turning Point Snackette by a group of people who said they were not allowed to vote.
"The people have been turning out in their numbers, but the unfortunate thing is that so many persons have been disenfranchised through no fault of their own. There have been instances where the GECOM officials didn't seem to understand the rules", Mr Hoyte said.
He said he had to resolve cases where a person whose name was on the list produced her identification card as well, but was told she couldn't vote, because the polling clerks could not find her Master Registration Card.
"That is totally absurd," Hoyte stated, noting that following intervention, the GECOM staff conceded that their approach was wrong.
Another case he pointed to, was where the officials sent away a woman with no identification card, paying total disregard to the provision which allows her to vote once she would have taken the prescribed oath.
Noting that those were some of the problems, he said, "we have to wait and see how things eventuate."
And at the same venue, observer from the European Union, Ambassador Vincent De Visscher said, "We are here to observe the elections as part of the short term EU Observer team, and we are going around observing like other international observers."
At Tucville Secondary Reform Pilot School, head of the 40-man Organisation of American States (OAS) observer team, Mr. Colin Granderson indicated that the team had observers spread across the 10 regions.
He said he had visited a lot of polling stations for the morning, adding, "It has been very busy, but things have cooled off a bit."