GECOM Chair cites legal restraint in reply to Jagdeo request for restart of Region Four verification

GECOM Chair cites legal restraint in reply to Jagdeo request for restart of Region Four verification

Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo on Saturday wrote GECOM Chair Claudette Singh demanding the resumption of verification of the Region Four voting at Monday’s general elections but the chair replied yesterday and said that the matter was sub judice.

Jagdeo’s letter of March 7 sought to have the Guy-ana Elections Commission (GECOM) restart verification of the Region Four vote, the curtailment of which by the Returning Officer has plunged the country into crisis and attracted widespread international criticism. Jagdeo had been hoping that the verification would proceed without prejudice to the legal proceedings filed by lawyers for the PPP seeking a judicial order that the Region Four verification be done.

Chief Justice Roxane George who is hearing the case yesterday ruled that she had jurisdiction in the matter and the substantive case will begin tomorrow.

In his missive to Singh, Jagdeo narrated the sequence of the events which led up to the abrogation of the Region Four verification by Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo and which triggered scenes of chanting and disorder at the GECOM office in the Ashmins building.

Jagdeo said that in accordance with section 83 of the Representation of the People Act, upon the closing of the polls, the Presiding Officers counted the ballots of each of the various Ballot Boxes and produced a Statement of Poll which was then duly posted in a conspicuous place outside the polling station.

Carbon copies of the Statements of Poll were provided to all parties, including the PPP/C.

“A tally of those Statements of Poll has been done which shows that for all 10 Regions APNU/AFC got 217,305 votes and PPP/C got 233,193 votes. In accordance with the Presiding Officers’ count, therefore, the PPP/C won the Elections by a margin of 15,888 votes”, Jagdeo said.

On the following day, March 3rd 2020, Jagdeo said that the Returning Officers for each of the 10 Districts began the process of totalling up the votes recorded in favour of the lists in accordance with the Statements of Poll. He said that by March 4th, that process was completed in all of the Districts, except District 4.

“The Commission published on its website the results of the section 84(1) verification process for those 9 Districts. That document, a copy of which is attached, shows that the PPP/C got 152,121 votes and the APNU got 100,682, a PPP/C lead of 51,439 votes”, Jagdeo stated.

He added that in relation to District 4, the section 84(1) verification process did not run smoothly.

“…it was interrupted intermittently by the illness, exhaustion or unavailability of election officials. On one occasion, it was interrupted by the need to locate 20 Statements of Poll in relation to certain votes which had been recorded on a spreadsheet produced by the Returning Officer, Mr. Clairmont Mingo”.

Jagdeo said that those votes purported to represent the votes recorded in the corresponding Statements of Poll but they were  quite different from the carbon copies of the Statements of Poll which the counting agents had in their possession. He noted that when the Statements of Poll were eventually produced, they tallied with the carbon copies in the possession of the counting agents and exposed that the spreadsheet was significantly inaccurate.

By  about half past midnight of 5th March 2020, Jagdeo said that only 421 of the 879 boxes from District 4 had been verified in accordance with the section 84(1) process. He said that the PPP/C’s tabulation of the verified votes for these 421 boxes showed that APNU got 63,856 votes against the PPP/C’s 24,545.

The verification process was then suspended and eventually around 3 am the counting agents and their assistants asked the party agents  to return at 9am that day to continue the process.

Sick bay

“At 9am, Mr Mingo had not yet arrived and only turned up at around midday, whereupon, in the presence of the Counting Agents, their assistants and other observers,  and without resuming the section 84(1) verification process in relation to the remaining 458 ballot boxes, he announced that he had a declaration of the votes under section 84(1) to make in relation to the list of candidates. The room immediately went into uproar. Mr Mingo then left the room saying that he was returning to sick bay and the process of verifying the remaining 458 boxes did not take place and has not yet resumed.

“At around 2pm, Mr Mingo appeared on the balcony of third floor of the GECOM building and made an announcement which could not be heard over the objections of those present and has since not been reported”, Jagdeo noted.

The Opposition Leader said that there then appeared on social media a document headed “Form 24” bearing a signature with the letters “ingo” readily apparent but which carried  no official stamp and does not indicate what District it applies to. In relation to the other Districts, Forms 24 were distributed by  the relevant Returning Officers directly into the hands of the Counting Agents which bore official stamps and identified the polling district to which they relate, Jagdeo added.

“From the above, given Mr Mingo’s declared intention to make a section  84(1) declaration, we are left to assume that he indeed made a section 84(1) declaration of the votes recorded for each list. If we are wrong, we call  upon you to resume the verification process voluntarily, without prejudice to the pending court proceedings. If on the other hand, Mr Mingo has in fact purported to make the section 84(1) declaration, any such declaration was in violation of section 84(1) because Mr Mingo did not add up the votes recorded for the remaining 458 ballot boxes in the presence  of  persons entitled to be present when the adding up was being done. Either way, again without prejudice to the pending proceedings, we demand that the verification process under section 84(1) be resumed forthwith and completed”, the PPP General Secretary said.

Jagdeo added that  prior to 12 noon of the 6th March 2020, Charles Ramson, a PPP Counting Agent, pursuant to section 84(2) of the Act, requested that Mingo conduct a final count of the votes counted by the presiding officers in District 4. Affidavits by Ramson and his agents attesting to the delivery of the request are being prepared, Jagdeo said. In accordance with section 84(2}, the Opposition Leader said that Mingo was required to conduct a final count of the votes already counted by the presiding officers in line with section 84(3) -(11) and section 87 of the Act.

“Accordingly, in the event that the verification  process pursuant to 84(1) is not recommenced forthwith and completed, we demand that the final count under section 84(2) be commenced forthwith, again without prejudice to the pending proceedings”, Jagdeo said.

He also demanded that the Chief Election Officer, Keith Lowenfield refrain from delivering any report on the results of the election to the Commission pursuant  to section 96 of the Act and “we likewise demand that the Commission refrain from publicly declaring the results of the Election”.

On presentation of Lowenfield’s final results, GECOM is supposed to meet to declare a winner of the election and the new president. Opposition-appointed elections commissioners have signaled that they would not be attending this meeting.

“Lastly, we demand that the Chief Election Officer, the Returning Officer and the Commission individually and collectively preserve the originals of the Statements of Poll for District 4.

“As noted, we have issued all of these demands without prejudice to the ongoing court proceedings. We trust and hope that as public officials your only concern is to comply with the law so that the public may be satisfied that a due election has been carried out and that the persons who are selected to sit in Parliament are in fact the duly elected representatives of the people. We therefore urge you to put the country ahead of all else and ensure that the processes provided for under the Representation of the People Act are complied with. It is your patriotic duty to do so”, Jagdeo wrote.

Justice Singh’s response was as follows:

“I have to inform you that the issues highlighted and methodology outlined in your correspondence are duly noted. However, since this matter is now sub judice, I will await the decision of the Court to determine the Commission’s next step”.

She also asked Jagdeo to submit the attachments he had referred to in correspondence to her and added “ I am hopeful that there will be a resolution within the shortest possible time”.

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