The Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) yesterday emphasised that amendments to the Revised List of Electors (RLE) using data from the controversial House-to-House (HtH) enumeration were well within the law.
“While some are pointing fingers to the Commission with false accusations of deliberate ploy to create confusion and mayhem GECOM is cognizant that their sole intention is to disenfranchise thousands of eligible electors who participated in the House-to-House Registration Exercise. This will not happen,” a statement from GECOM declared before arguing that corrections to the RLE are provided for at Regulation 37 of the National Registration (Residents) Regulations Act.
According to this provision the Commission of Registration, Keith Lowenfield, can within 21 days after he certifies the RLE make changes provided that he “is satisfied that any entry or omission in any list as revised pursuant to regulation 35 is incorrect through inadvertence.”
It adds that “in the course of such revision, he shall make or cause to be made the requisite correction to that list and such copy thereof as is open for inspection at any registration office and the Commissioner shall give to the person to whom such correction relates notice thereof, which may be sent by registered post to his last known address.”
The statement from GECOM further said that considering the legal provision, GECOM is confident in its system which is vital to ensure that persons who would have had changes done to their addresses during the HtH exercise are properly recorded.
“[it] is in accordance with the law and does not fall outside of the statutory period,” the statement contended, adding that GECOM has a duty to ensure that the information of all Electors is accurately reflected on the Official List of Electors (OLE) to avoid confusion.
“If that process is not done, Electors would be required to travel to their old addresses to vote. As such, those persons would be displaced and disenfranchised which could result in low voter turnout and questionable election results,” the statement said.
In the statement released by GECOM Public Relations Officer, Yolanda Ward, the commission stated that it was “perturbed by the recent attempts to discredit the work of the agency.”
“The Commission is urging the electorate to be extremely vigilant of the attempts by a few to create confusion, mischief and derail the level of public confidence in GECOM to conduct free, fair, transparent and credible elections. GECOM is working in the best interest of the electors,” the statement added.
The issue of contention is the current exercise by the commission to include in the RLE approximately 91,000 change-of-address requests made during HtH.
Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has argued that these alterations are being conducted outside of the statutory timeframe which he says ended when the Claims and Objections period was closed.
During his weekly press conference yesterday, he referred to the exercise as a “surreptitious resurgence of activities which should’ve never taken place.”
The Opposition People’s Progressive Party/ Civic (PPP/C ) had boycotted the HtH exercise contending that it was an attempt to delay the holding of elections following the December 2018 No Confidence Vote. A legal challenge to the exercise in the High Court saw Chief Justice Roxane George declare that the process was a legal means by which the National Register of Registrants (NRR) may be verified.
She also ruled that the process could not be used to remove any entries from the NRR.
Since that decision in August last year, there has been contentious debate about what to do with the HtH data generated.
A decision was made by the GECOM Chair Justice Claudette Singh to truncate the exercise and use the data generated.
Yesterday, Jagdeo said that his party was in possession of approximately 69,000 to 70,000 records of changes even as the commission is still conducting the exercise.
He went on to argue that the magnitude of changes being made was concerning and contended that even if the Chief Election Officer who is also Commissioner of Registration has the authority to make changes during this period it is “not of this magnitude.”
“No change except minor changes,” should be happening Jagdeo argued.
Jagdeo also raised concerns about the competence of GECOM’s staff to complete the process accurately.
According to him the entire country but especially GECOM’s chair should be concerned with allowing staff to make these changes when they made so many errors during the uploading of HtH data for fingerprint cross-matching.
Following a cross-matching exercise by international contractor Gemalto, a list of over 20,000 allegedly first-time registrants from the HtH exercise was found to contain names that were already on the National Register of Registrants.
According to Jagdeo even a minor error by GECOM staff during this process could lead to disenfranchisement through displacement.
He stressed that the Commission should allow for each change to be verified and committed his party to conducting such a verification exercise while urging the governing APNU+AFC coalition to do the same.