Unsigned statements used in ballot count - witness

Stabroek News
September 10, 1999

Region Four's Returning Officer for the 1997 general elections, Henry Europe, yesterday admitted to the court that the figure stated in his report did not accurately reflect the results for his region because it included data from unsigned poll documents.

On his third day in the witness box in the Esther Perreira elections petition before Justice Claudette Singh, the witness, under cross-examination by attorney-at-law and Leader of the National Independent Party, Saphier Hussein, said that the 175,604 votes were inclusive of 109 unsigned statements of poll (SOP). He further disclosed to the court that the unsigned SOPs amounted to 27,656 votes. Europe, who did not mention this in his report, agreed that it was an important omission.

Questioned on the verification process, Europe said that he had witnessed one which was held at the Elections Commission and added that the 109 unsigned SOPs were used in the process. Asked about the training programme prior to the election, Europe said that all presiding officers had received training and it was a clear instruction for them to sign the SOPs. He said he was not aware of any presiding officer being threatened or placed under duress not to sign the SOPs.

On the issue of the declaration of the result for Region Four, the witness conceded that he had heard Chairman of the Elections Commission, Doodnauth Singh, publicly announce that he could not declare the results because the "runners had gone to the Olympics". However, as returning officer for the region, the witness said he did not agree with this statement because "there were no runners".

Asked about ballot boxes, Europe testified that he had received 736 boxes from the Elections Commission Stores Supervisor, Pamela McDonald, on the Wednesday before elections day. He explained that there were two types of boxes which were given out at random.

He said that after the elections, he had returned the boxes to the Elections Commission where they were received by Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Stanley Singh, and his Deputy Ganga Persaud had signed when they collected the boxes. The witness further told the court that he had done this because two days before the elections, the CEO had instructed him to do so. According to him, the boxes were subsequently stored in two containers.

Earlier in the hearing, McDonald had testified that all returning officers had returned their boxes with the exception of Region Four.

On the issue of reconciliation of voter ID cards, Europe said that he was not aware of any written document by anyone stating the number of ID cards against the number of ballots cast on elections day. "There is no record to show that a count of ID cards was done against that of the ballots," he said.

Quoting from the report by the CARICOM Audit Commission, Hussein said that while Region Four had 175,136 voters, 168,625 voter ID cards had been distributed. Six thousand, five hundred and eleven cards could not be accounted for. The witness disagreed with counsel that persons were allowed to vote without ID cards.

When the hearing of the petition continues today, the witness is expected to be cross-examined by Senior Counsel Rex McKay who is representing Leader of the PNC, Desmond Hoyte. In her petition, Perreira is asking the court to find the results of the election null and void. She has named the representatives of the political parties and the CEO as the respondents.

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