Ballot box opened after close of polls
--elections petition hearing learns

Stabroek News
November 4, 1999

The ongoing elections petition hearing yesterday learned that a ballot box had been opened by a group of persons on Elections Day, after the close of polls, in order to check on the material inside.

The court presided over by Justice Claudette Singh, was also told by a former presiding officer (PO) that the same ballot box had earlier been taken from her at the Sparendaam Police Station and that she had next seen it about half an hour later at the Beterverwagting Education Office where the opening took place.

Jacqueline Barclay's testimony came under cross-examination by Peter Britton, SC, counsel for the petitioner Esther Perreira, and after she had faced examination by Hubert Rodney, counsel for the Chief Elections Officer (CEO).

Barclay had earlier testified that she had been appointed to serve as PO at a private residence in South Better Hope and that, in the course of her duties, she had prepared a poll book and statement of poll (SOPs).

She said that her SOP, which allocated the votes, had been signed and that none of the scrutineers representing political parties at her station had queried this allocation of votes.

She told the court that after the close of poll, a group of people which included policemen, had come to her station and taken her, along with her ballot box and other elections material to the Sparendaam Police Station.

She told Rodney that at the station, the box was taken from her and she was then taken to Beterverwagting where she handed the deputy returning officer an envelope containing the keys to her ballot box and her SOP.

Under cross-examination, Barclay conceded to Britton that she had not been trained to leave her ballot boxes at the police station. However, she admitted that she could not remember exactly what she had been told she was to do with the ballot box.

She recalled that at Sparendaam a vehicle resembling a container had been on the public road outside the station and that it was in this vehicle that her ballot box had been placed. However, she explained that she had not put the box in the container. According to Barclay, a group of persons whom she did not know, had come up to her and, without signing for the box, had taken it away.

She also told the court that at the time the box was being loaded into the container, she had been in a mini-bus on the other side of the road.

She said that at BV she was able to identify her ballot box among a number of others, which had been taken into the office.

Yesterday, the court also heard testimony from Vidawattie Ramkishur and June Sancho. Ramkishur told the court that lack of a six-digit stamp at her polling booth at Lusignan Primary had forced her to open her polling station 45 minutes late.

She told the court that to compensate she had closed her station at 1815 hrs, extending the deadline beyond the prescribed 1800 hrs.

Asked by Britton whether, by law, she was empowered to do this, the witness, after scanning a PO manual, conceded that she was not.

Britton then had her observe that, with the 15-minute extension, she had kept her polling station open for only 11 and half hours, 30 minutes less than the 12 hours she had said she was trying to make up. Ramkishur explained that at around 1330 hrs that day, all the voters on her list had already voted at the station and that the decision to close at 1815 had been made by herself, the political party scrutineers present and others.

Britton summed up the situation by suggesting that she was part of a group that decided to change the law. The witness did not disagree with this assessment.

Next to testify was Sancho, who identified a poll book tendered in court by Rodney as hers.

She went on to tell the court that a clerk of her DRO had gone to her polling station and that she had accompanied this person to the local office at Triumph. Before this testimony, however, Sancho had to explain to Britton why on a document listing POs, she was listed as June Peters. Her explanation was that at the time, she was unmarried.

The elections petition hearing is expected to continue tomorrow.

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.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples