Work of the Elections Commission not over

Stabroek News
April 9, 2001

Though the March 19 elections are over, the work of the Elections Commission isn't. There are many questions impinging on the conduct of the polls that the Commission should be interfacing with the public on.

While it is recognized that the Commission has frozen its database pending an audit and it is steeling itself for the likely election petition, this should not preclude it from discharging what is an unwritten but seminal obligation. That is, to keep engaged with the public and provide explanations to genuine concerns that have been raised about March 19 and also to deflate unfounded charges that have been issuing from the TV host/caller shows.

As an aside, more and more institutions like the Elections Commission and its constitutional brethren have to begin to realise the absolute importance of providing information and using this to strengthen its mandate and authority. Otherwise, in the vacuum, rumours and misrepresentation contend unchecked and assume metastatic qualities.

The secrecy in which many of the service commissions operate is counter-productive. The public doesn't expect details on confidential information but certainly periodic statements, accounts of its work and responsiveness to public issues that fall in their domain.

For the Elections Commission, the questions won't go away or begin to lose their sting until reasonable answers are provided. The public should not have to wait for an election petition to get the answers. The courtroom environment isn't conducive to comprehensive explanations.

Prime among the questions raised is that of the disenfranchising of voters. Though it has been widely acknowledged by observer groups and others that the elections were well run and fair and the voter turnout was remarkable at 403,734 out of 440,185, the Commission has been dogged by claims of disenfranchisement. Clearly there were genuine cases and some were not. It has been suggested that the genuine cases reflect less than one percent of those eligible to vote.

The Commission must now say based on the reports that it received from its 1900-odd polling stations cataloguing complaints from voters, evidence from the public and the work of observer groups what is the best estimate as to the number of those disenfranchised, what led to the cases and whether this phenomenon occurred countrywide as opposed to two or three regions.

Secondly, how many people were handed new national identification cards but were ineligible to vote? This category would have constituted persons who were on the Revised Voters List (RVL) but not on the Official List of Electors (OLE) or its addendum because it was deemed that they were ineligible. Why were these people ineligible to vote? How did they get on the RVL in the first place? Why was there not better management of the cards to ensure that those not on the OLE were not issued with these until a later date?

Why were the photographic stubs a source of such great confusion and why didn't they have better security features to prevent duplication and manipulation?

How many of the 23,000-odd errors picked up on the RVL were not corrected on the OLE and why?

Why is it that errors on the OLE published on March 5 could not be corrected in time for March 19?

Why were transfers such a problem even though the difficulty had been recognised during the claims and objections period?

How was it that errors were introduced on the OLE when the particulars on the RVL were correct?

Is there evidence of data entry manipulation of the list and do the audit trails necessary to determine culpability exist?

How many stations were affected on March 19 by the late arrival of staff and shortages of indelible ink and ballot papers?

Why was a request from the PNC/R for polling stations to remain open entertained so late in the day on March 19 (after 5 pm) when it was obvious this would lead to confusion over closing times?

When the Commission finally decided that polls would close just after 6 pm why did it have such a difficult time getting through to its stations to notify them of this particularly in Region Four which should have been very accessible?

As has been testified to by various members of the public, why did certain stations in South Georgetown fall prey to hooligans who exerted influence over voting at these stations and created an atmosphere of intimidation? Given similar experiences in 1992 and 1997, did the Commission consider extra security for these stations?

Were fraudulent ballots inserted at any of these stations?

Why was the Commission unable to meet its March 20 midday deadline for delivery of the unofficial results?

How could detailed counting over a long period result in Charlestown stations being left out of the final tally that was reported to the Commission?

These are some of the questions which the Commission still needs to address in some detail. The political furore that has been built around these still needs to be defused particularly if good explanations exist.