Doodnauth Singh asks court to count voter ID cards
Erratum to Cross report disallowed
By William Walker
April 18, 2000
Senior Counsel Doodnauth Singh yesterday asked the court to count all the voter ID cards used at the 1997 elections. This request would close his case.
Singh made the application to Justice Claudette Singh after she had ruled that an erratum signed by the Chairman of the CARICOM Audit Commission (CAC), Ulric Cross, was inadmissible as evidence. The erratum reportedly corrected a finding on page 29 of the CAC report that 45,000 persons had voted without ID cards.
Justice Singh ruled for the erratum's exclusion on the grounds that the letter was signed by Cross alone, whereas the report referred no less than 36 times to the commission having made certain findings. This indicated a collective effort and as such any correction would have to be signed by all the commissioners.
Anyway the erratum presented to the court was a facsimile copy and thus "there was no law under which I can admit this document," Justice Singh concluded.
Doodnauth Singh who is representing Chief Elections Officer Stanley Singh then asked: "In view of your ruling excluding the erratum... an application that voter ID cards be counted under the supervision of the court so that the court would be in a proper position to determine that which appears on page 29 of the CAC report is accurate or not." The approximately 400,000 ID cards are locked up in containers at the Elections Commission compound.
Lawyers for the petitioner and respondent, who were present, seemed somewhat surprised at the count request and rose to argue against the application. First up was Senior Counsel Peter Britton for the petitioner Esther Perreira. He said the cards were so mixed up with some used for the test count, some never used some floating down the Demerara River... "We are trying to keep within the confines of the pleadings... why this obsession with numbers?" Britton asked. The petition was based in part on imbalances in the distribution of ID cards and a million cards would not change that, he argued.
Senior Counsel Rex McKay representing Desmond Hoyte then weighed in with his opinion. The audit was "prima facie" evidence of what was found... if I understand my learned friend he would like to give evidence to rebut the evidence of the report... Next thing we will be matching ID cards to actual votes."
Raphael Trotman argued that not one of the 282 witnesses had challenged the findings on page 29. Witness after witness was asked about the ID cards, all answered that they had no knowledge to refute the claims. Trotman queried under what basis Doodnauth Singh could bring his application and why now with his case closed.
Doodnauth Singh in reply referred to the testimony of Dr Leslie Ramsammy who had told the court how the ID cards were counted and computed with the ballots cast. The question of the cards went to the credibility of the commission, he argued. "We cannot put our heads in the sand." The cross-examination had utilised and relied on page 29 extensively, Doodnauth Singh said, and it was necessary for a count to ascertain the accuracy of that section. Justice Singh said she would defer a ruling until Thursday when court will resume.
Justice Singh also ruled that the appendices to the CAC report were admissible. The appendices basically annotate the box by box count of the votes by the CAC audit. Whilst she saw no nexus between the report and the appendices Singh ruled that "evidence has already been given by the witness, the CEO on the comparison of the results of the Elections Commission and the CAC as well as evidence of the final declaration as stated in Chapter 5 of the CAC report. "Although the document is not strictly admissible under Section 96 of the Evidence Act... the fact that the CEO said he collected the document from the CARICOM Secretariat... I would allow its admission."
Doodnauth Singh then asked the CEO three simple questions relating to the document. Did it refer to each ballot box used during the election? Did it show the number of votes cast for each political party? And were all ten regions referred to? The CEO answered yes to all and with that his re-examination was complete.
Trotman, in "re cross-examination" read from the CEO's own report which referred to 1,837 ballot boxes being used when the CAC report counted 1,841. The CEO's "opinion of what I believe happened" to the four extra boxes was "they would have come from the regions that would have not received last minute orders to merge polling stations." But he did not know from what region the boxes came or how many ballots were involved.
As to his inactivity when he knew of the impending audit, the CEO said he took his hands off everything. "In fact anything I was to put my hands on would have been seen as manipulation." He recalled how he went to burn food boxes at the back of the Elections Commission compound and "the word on the streets was that Stanley Singh was burning statements of poll. That is how intriguing, how distrustful it was in the compound at the time... and maybe now for all I know !"
The elections petition was brought by Perreira on the grounds that the process was so flawed as to be unable to accurately reflect the will of the people.