On June 13, Chief Election Officer Keith Lowenfield, told the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) that “instances of voter impersonation” have affected the standard of the March 2 Polls and used this and other alleged anomalies to invalidate approximately 25% of the ballots cast but an interview from 2015 shows the same Lowenfield contending that impersonation “is just not possible”.
“We need to put to rest the concept that a man can leave polling station A in Cummingsburg and go across to Alberttown, Queenstown and hop around. It’s just not possible,” Lowenfield says in a three- minute video published by online media outlet the Newsroom.
In the video, the CEO, in the company of the then Chair of the GECOM, Steve Surujbally explained that anyone trying to vote on polling day can only do so at the polling station where they are registered.
“For you to vote at a polling station you have to be listed to vote there. In that polling station our Presiding Officer will have a list specific to that polling station. If you go to another polling station then your name will not be there,” he animatedly explained.
Speaking on “rumours” of impersonation Lowenfield emphatically explained why it just is not possible.
“Even if your Vaseline has worked and you remove the ink. When you go there say in another name like Troy Johnson. Without an Identification Card then the folio comes into play…you have to pass through the process of having the features of Troy and our Presiding Officer will be asking you [questions] since you don’t have an ID card,” he explained adding that question include things such as “What’s your mother’s date of birth?”
These same safeguards have been repeatedly pointed out to challenge belated claims by APNU+AFC that there was impersonation and other acts of fraud at polling stations on March 2nd.
Opposition-nominated Commissioner Sase Gunraj in an invited comment last night stressed that GECOM’s systems have not changed since 2015.
“In 2015 the CEO was adamant that his system was impenetrable in the manner it now being alleged. He held strong and stoutly defended his system. In 2020 absolutely nothing has changed and the CEO lauded the system leading up to the day of polls and immediately after the polls. Now he has inexplicably changed his position without explanation,” he lamented.
He went on to note that in invalidating more than 115,000 votes Lowenfield has given himself powers that GECOM itself does not have.
“He has arrogated to himself powers that the Commission he serves does not itself have,” Gunraj stressed.
This newspaper has been able to confirm that the video was taken at the March 20, 2015 “Let’s Talk” forum held by the now defunct advocacy group Blue CAPS.
Dead in its tracks
A Stabroek News report on the event quoted Surujbally as assuring those present that when it comes to impersonation GECOM has a “a menu of measures to stop that dead in its tracks”.
Those measures included scrutineers and a folio containing biographic data on each person, including their photos.
In relation to the ink used to stain voters’ fingers to show that they have voted, Lowenfield said that too would make it “impossible” to vote twice as they have increased the concentration of silver nitrate in the ink.
It is not clear what changed in the five years since but Lowenfield in his summary of the observation reports generated during the National Recount the CEO concluded that identified anomalies and instances of voter impersonation do not appear to satisfy the criteria of impartiality, fairness, and compliance with provisions of the Constitution and the Representation of the People Act.
“Consequently, on the basis of the votes counted and the information furnished from the recount, it cannot be ascertained that the results… meet the standard of fair and credible elections,” he concluded for every District.
Speaking on voter impersonation specifically the CEO explained that it “refers to instances where votes were cast in the names of deceased persons or in names of electors who were not themselves personally present to cast their ballots on 2nd March 2020.” He went on to state for each district a specific number of alleged impersonations. In District Four, Lowenfield noted that it was alleged that there were 1,706 instances of voter impersonation. In District Six the total was 1,128 while 977 instances were claimed in District Three.
In total the CEO, who once claimed that not one instance of impersonation, could occur appeared to give credence to 4,864 instances in his report.
He went on to state that that responses from the Chief Immigration Officer and review of the General Register Office’s Deceased Reports confirmed that these allegations made by the incumbent APNU+AFC coalition, were of substance.
In this his first report to the Commission the CEO, after discarding all votes affected by anomalies including impersonation, claimed that only 185,260 votes cast could be considered valid. Lowenfield’s alternative count at the time granted the coalition 125,010 votes and the PPP/C 56,628.
This however is not the number he submitted when called upon to present his final report in keeping with Section 96 of the Representation of the People’s Act. In that report a total of 344,508 were deemed “valid and credible”. It, too, shows an APNU+AFC victory as it reports a total of 171,825 votes cast for the APNU+AFC compared to 166,343 for the PPP/C.
It is unclear on what basis he determined what were the “valid and credible” votes.
Lowenfield submitted this report despite being directed by the current GECOM chair to use the “results of the recount” in the compilation of his report.
The recount results had been certified by GECOM’s Secretariat. They show that the PPP/C’s list of candidates has secured 233,336 votes compared to the 217,920 garnered by the incumbent APNU+AFC coalition. Under that count, the PPP/C has won the March 2 General Elections by 15,416 votes.
Lowenfield and District Four Returning Officer, Clairmont Mingo have been accused of trying in various ways to rig the general elections for APNU+AFC; in the CEO’s case lopping off thousands of votes to produce a result different from the recount vote which shows a victory for the opposition PPP/C.