Poll clerk elevated to presiding officer on election eve--court told

Stabroek News
October 28, 1999

Four former presiding officers (POs) acknowledged yesterday during the elections petition hearing that they were not listed by the Elections Commission as having being appointed POs for their respective polling stations.

Erica Harry, led by Hubert Rodney, counsel for Chief Election Officer (CEO), Stanley Singh, explained to the court, presided over by Justice Claudette Singh, that she had applied to be a polling clerk but, at the last minute, had been told that she would be a PO.

She said she had been told this on the night of December 14, several hours before polls opened on December 15.

She recalled asking a Miss London whom she said had been a deputy returning officer what her position would be, and not receiving a satisfactory answer.

She told Rodney that she had left the office dissatisfied, but had later returned after being told by a young woman who met her on the way home, that she should return to learn her position. On her return, she was told that she would be PO because the Elections Commission did not have one for that Unit. Harry said she responded with a disbelieving "Me!"

She nevertheless collected her elections materials that night and took up her duties on December 15 during which time she said she prepared a poll book and statements of poll.

She recalled that she had prepared these SOPs in the presence of an observer from the Electoral Assistance Bureau (EAB) and that during the day, her polling station had been visited by a number of party agents, including Dr Faith Harding from the PNC.

She said that no one had questioned either her results or her appointment and her SOPs had been handed to Miss London.

Under cross-examination by counsel for the petitioner, Peter Britton, she acknowledged that she had not been trained as a PO but that a PO manual had been used throughout her training. She was also shown an official Elections Commission document identifying the PO for her polling station as Shaundell Britton.

She further testified that she had prepared separate SOPs for the regional and general elections but was shown a SOP by Britton which she acknowledged as being signed by her but which carried general and regional elections on the same page. She said that she had not done this nor had she authorised anyone to do so.

She recalled that she had earlier been shown a copy of the same SOP by a senior Elections Commission official named Albert Henry and had pointed out the discrepancy. However, the official was said to have responded that this was not a matter for him and would be dealt with when she came to court.

The court yesterday also heard testimony from Sandra Sergeant, Felicia Hoppie and Barbara Gomes. Another witness, Iris Morgan had to be excused due to illness.

Sergeant, led by Rodney, had initially testified that she had received a letter of appointment, verifying that she would be PO. She identified a poll book tendered in court by Rodney as having been prepared by her and reported that agents present when she allocated votes had not queried the results.

She, however, went on to tell the same lawyer that she had been the assistant PO, and for some reason the person who would have been PO had not wanted the position and so they had "switched".

Rodney had asked her if she knew why she had been appointed PO and Justice Singh, seeking clarification, repeated the question. The witness then said that she knew no reason why she had been appointed PO.

Britton then showed Sergeant an Elections Commission list of POs and had her note that a Vineta Johnson had been slated as the PO for that polling station.

The court then heard Harry's testimony, after which Hoppie took the stand and told the court that she had been appointed PO at a meeting on the Thursday before elections.

In keeping with her appointment, she said, she had prepared SOPs and also identified a poll book as hers when it was tendered by Rodney.

Under cross-examination, the witness was made to observe that a Candacy David was listed as PO for her polling station.

She was asked to explain how she had been appointed and told the court that at the meeting, someone had been calling out names and appointments.

She then testified that she had handed in her original SOP to the Elections Commission, and Britton showed her a SOP, which she acknowledged as having been prepared and signed by her.

Gomes said that she had been given a letter of appointment verifying her position as PO. However, she was shown a document where a Roxanne Reed had been identified as PO rather than her.

She was also shown a poll book in court and identified it as having been prepared by her. Britton drew her attention to a note on the document, indicating that there had been some problem with a voter ID card, in relation to the signature. Gomes could not recall the specific incident that had caused her to make the note but conceded that she had to have made it because there was something wrong with somebody's voter ID card.

Gomes was the last witness to testify yesterday and the elections petition hearing will continue tomorrow with another batch of former POs in Region Four testifying.

The petition is being brought by Esther Perreira, who is challenging the 1997 elections on the grounds that the process was so flawed that it cannot be said to accurately reflect the will of the electorate. Among the respondents she has named the CEO and former presidents Janet Jagan and Desmond Hoyte.

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