ID card count could take three weeks
Judge to rule today

By William Walker
Stabroek News
April 27, 2000

The counting of voter identification cards used in the 1997 elections could be finished in three weeks should the court order such an action.

Justice Claudette Singh yesterday heard arguments for and against Senior Counsel Doodnauth Singh's application of last week for the court to supervise the counting of ID cards to rebut the findings of the CARICOM Audit Commission (CAC) that some 45,000 persons voted without identification.

Doodnauth Singh submitted a proposal to the court which conceives a time frame of May 3, to May 17, for the tabulation with a May 19, submission to the court of the results. The counting team would comprise representatives of the Supreme Court, the private sector, the Guyana Trades Union Congress, the Guyana Council of Churches and the Elections Commission.

Under the proposal the six containers at the Elections Commission building would be opened and the cards removed and tallied before being handed over to the Chief Election Officer (CEO) who would acknowledge receipt in writing. The proposal states that no progress report bearing place-by-place results would be issued until final count. Voter cards for disciplined services balloting would be reckoned at the end of the process.

The keys to the containers are currently lodged with the police and the CARICOM Secretariat.

But all of this is academic until Justice Singh's ruling scheduled for today. In the meantime Senior Counsel Rex McKay representing PNC leader Desmond Hoyte argued strenuously that the application was not based on any evidence given in court. He dismissed Dr Leslie Ramsammy's evidence during the petition that he had been present at the counting of ID cards as mere hearsay; much like a policeman measuring at the scene of an accident and trusting the call from the person holding the other end of the tape. "The court cannot become an arbiter in respect to the counting of ID cards. It would have descended into the arena."

Senior Counsel Peter Britton, representing the petitioner Esther Perreira, said "any examination of ID cards outside of statutory rulings would constitute a serious violation of the secrecy of the ballot."

Doodnauth Singh, in reply, observed that the commission counted the ballots and ID cards without any violation. He said the CAC was supposed to count all the ID cards but ended up only summing up a test sample in Regions Two, Four, Six and Seven. As such the conclusion drawn was erroneous. The CAC sought to clarify this error by the erratum, Doodnauth Singh argued. Justice Singh had earlier rejected an application to have the erratum entered into evidence. Under Section 19 of the Validity of Elections Act any document kept under the supervision of the CEO may be inspected by an order of the court, Doodnauth Singh said. "I don't understand my learned friend's logic... at all," McKay responded. The report states clear as the Stabroek Clock at High Noon that only cards for Regions Two, Four, Six and Seven were counted and only gives figures for those regions, he said. Singh would have the court believe that by counting the other regions it would find the missing cards. "Where are these ID cards?" McKay asked rhetorically. "Has someone done a sleight of hand?" Raphael Trotman argued against the admission on the grounds that the erratum which he waived around in the air only spoke of differences in Region Six. But Doodnauth Singh observed that since Trotman had argued against the erratum's admission it was a little too much for him to be referring to it in his arguments. The point was taken by Trotman.

Britton then went on at some length about the secrecy of the ballots and quoted some soon-to-be professor from England on the dangers of counting ballots and cards. It would be easy to find out how John James voted once you matched ID card to ballot, Britton concluded. 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.