Election petition hearing
Parris alleges bias in voter ID distribution

By Patrick Denny
Stabroek News
September 29, 1998

Statistical expert, Haslyn Parris, claimed in testimony before Justice Claudette Singh yesterday, that there was bias in the distribution of the voter identification cards for the December 15 general elections.

He also claimed that in his analysis of the distribution reports for the voter identification cards, that the accuracy achieved in the electoral process as a whole could affect the reliability of the results of the elections.

Parris was the first witness called in the hearing of the election petition brought by Esther Perreira against the Chief Election Officer and others.

He told the Court that there was a precise formula for calculating the degree of accuracy required in the electoral process as a whole, that would allow any party to determine the minimum number of votes it would need that would make it possible for it to gain a seat in the National Assembly.

Parris also asserted that he could not say what was the number of voters who were eligible to vote at the December 15, elections based on the ambiguity contained in the reports published by the Elections Commission.

Parris is the holder of a first degree in Mathematics from the University of the West Indies and a first degree in Economics and a Masters degree in Economics and Statistics from the London School of Economics.

Led by Perreira's counsel, Peter Britton SC, Parris said that an analysis he carried out of 15 reports prepared by the Elections Commission on the production and distribution of the voter identification cards from November 7 - December 12, showed that the regions with the consistently highest distributions were Regions Two, Three, Five and Six. Those with the lowest, he said, were consistently Regions One, Four, Seven, Eight, Nine and Ten.

He explained that the probability of Regions Two, Three, Five and Six being regions with the highest distribution on just one of the reports was 1:210. Thus the occurrence of the four regions having the highest distribution on 15 consecutive reports would indicate that there was some bias in the distribution of the voter identification cards.

Parris in response to questions about the number of people who were eligible to vote, said that his confusion arose from the law which had been enacted that said that only persons in possession of a voter identification card would be allowed to vote.

He pointed out to the Court, that the information indicated in the report of December 12 tendered in evidence on the distribution of the Voter Identification Cards, showed that 423,209 cards had been distributed in the field and 517 had been distributed at the gate of the Elections Commission. This total of 423,726 was shown to be 91.84 per cent of the persons listed on the Final Voters List which was given as 461,369. Also he indicated that a report also tendered in evidence indicated that the number of electors on the Final Voters List was 461,445, and he noted that he had seen a published final voters list of the persons to whom voter identification cards had been issued.

Parris also indicated that at the request of Malcolm Parris, a member of the Elections Commission which supervised the December 15, elections, he had applied his technical expertise to information contained in a memorandum which had been signed by Tony Farnum and Adam Trill of De la Rue Identity Systems contracted to produce the Voter Identification Cards.

He said that having read the memorandum and as a result of advice he gave to Parris, he drafted letters to the Elections Commission which were signed by Winston Murray, chairman of the People's National Congress (PNC), and Aubrey Norton, the PNC general secretary.

As a results of those letters, Parris said that a meeting was convened by the Elections Commission, chaired by Ralph Ramkarran SC, and at which were present Commission members Moen McDoom SC, Jocelyn Dow and Parris at the Commission's office.

He explained that at the meeting he said that he was in technical agreement with the information in the memorandum which indicated concern about a flaw in the procedure being used to produce the voter identification cards. This flaw, he said, would allow voter identification cards to be produced which did not necessarily match the names on the final voters list which was the listing of persons eligible to vote at the December 15 elections. The flaw would allow too, the production of duplicate voter identification cards.

He explained that the flaw arose from the computer operator preparing the card, being able to manipulate a device which would allow the operator to alter the information on the monitor.

Parris said that he agreed with Farnum and Trill that it was unacceptable that an operator could change the information, called up from the database compiled from the final voters list and that the jeopardy created by the flaw was not eradicable by any checks that might be done after the voter identification card was produced.

Parris noted that there had to be a one-to-one relationship between the persons listed on the final voters list and the cards produced and distributed to persons in a regime in which only persons in possession of the voter identification cards could vote. The final voters list would represent a listing of persons eligible to vote if and only if that one-to-one correspondence was assured.

He said too that he agreed with Trill's assessment that disabling the device would slow down the production process by 30 per cent and that doing so was incompatible with the expeditious production of the voter identification cards.

Parris said that a second meeting was convened by the Commission which was chaired by Doodnauth Singh SC, chairman of the Elections Commission. At that meeting, the participants toured the facility, located at the offices of the Elections Commission, where the voter identification cards were being produced.

The tour, conducted by another representative of De La Rue Identity systems in the absence of Trill, was to demonstrate that the jeopardy described could not occur because of the checks and balances that had been introduced during the production process of the card.

Parris said that nothing he had seen during the tour had convinced him that the jeopardy had been removed.

Testifying as to his own experience as a voter, Parris said too, that he was issued with a pink slip indicating his polling division number and the polling place at which he should vote.

However, he learnt from subsequent publications from the Elections Commission not distributed to the public, that the polling place at which he should vote was not at the Campbellville Community High School as indicated on the pink slip, but at Clifford Sobers' residence in Lamaha Gardens. Parris noted too, that paid advertisements aired in the media, cautioned people that they had to be in possession of a voter identification card and that the places where they would cast their ballots were indicated on the pink slips they had been given when they collected their voter identification cards.

Parris was being cross-examined by Doodnauth Singh SC, counsel for Chief Election Officer, Stanley Singh, when the case was adjourned to today.