Lawyers argue against voter ID card count

By William Walker
Stabroek News
May 11, 2000

The elections petition heard arguments yesterday against the counting of the voter identification cards used in the 1997 elections.

These arguments were in reply to those put forward by Senior Counsel Ralph Ramkarran lawyer for respondent Janet Jagan on Monday when he asked the court to reconsider its decision not to count the cards.

Senior Counsel Rex McKay representing Hugh Desmond Hoyte, described Ramkarran's presentation as "a brilliant historical perspective of English election law" but unfortunately there was nothing in Guyanese law referring to voter ID cards. Neither was any mention made in English Law to ID cards. The court could not be expected to freely interpret the law as if it were the Constitution but must make a decision based strictly by the law.

Justice Claudette Singh had disallowed the first application for a recount on ID cards. In her ruling the word "inspect" as used in Section 19 of the same act, could not mean "count" according to a strict dictionary definition. Referring to Section 20 of the Validity of Elections Act that uses the stronger word "scrutiny", McKay said the official Oxford Dictionary meaning of the word referred only to the counting of votes.

McKay noted that "justice was not a one way street" and that the "interests of justice should be served by concluding the petition so as not to be a hindrance for the next elections fixed for January 17, 2001." McKay argued that to indulge in a count would also allow for cross-examination of all 45,000 persons whose ID cards were disputed and cross-examination of those who purported to collate the findings of the CARICOM Audit Commission (CAC) report.

McKay said that as far as he knew "England has never had proportional representation" even though section 38 of the Validity of Elections Act states that the principles, practices and rules of committees of the UK House of Commons should be observed in the case of election petitions. As such the rules could not apply and McKay cited Canadian cases to prove his point.

Anyway, the petitioner's case was never about numbers, concluded McKay. "We are not contending that the votes resulted in a miscount... we are saying that procedural irregularities demonstrate that the election was not conducted according to the laws governing elections."

Senior Counsel Peter Britton agreed with his "learned colleague's" arguments adding that he had repeated ad nauseam "that our petition had nothing to do with counting of votes."

As for Ramkarran's assertion that Dr Leslie Ramsammy's testimony was evidential basis, Britton said the court was being asked to make up its mind on whether Ramsammy was telling the truth. "It is all a last minute diabolical attempt to delay, frustrate and distract...," said Britton.

McKay had started the proceedings by referring to a ruling on the admissibility of computer generated documents such as the audit of ID cards for Region 6. In the "Miners Case" the Court of Appeal had recognised that "the laws of evidence must be adapted to the technology of modern business... But the computer is not infallible and the unauthorised alteration of information stored on a computer is possible." As such computers are imperfect providers. Casting doubt on the authenticity of the audit, McKay said there had been allegations of "computer machinations" during the elections.

Justice Singh said she would defer a decision on the matter until Monday because she needed to go to the library to research some of the more obscure law books referred to by Ramkarran and McKay.

She had initially said she would give a ruling on the admission of three documents: the erratum; a list of the telephone numbers of the commissioners; and a page with their signatures. But she decided to wait until Monday when court will convene.