…propose electronic transmission of results pilot
As the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) begins preparations for the 2018 Local Government Elections, long-serving Commissioner, Vincent Alexander, believes plans should include a pilot programme for the electronic transmission of the results from polling stations to the main centre.
Now in his tenth year as a Commissioner, Alexander is currently the longest tenured member. He believes that implementing the electronic transfer of the results from polling stations at the next General Elections due in 2020 will ensure the faster delivery of the final results.
According to Alexander, as it relates to electronic voting, there is great suspicion and understandably so because of known possibilities of hacking. He said, then, there are some people who are simply stuck in old traditions of balloting.
The GECOM Commissioner cited a previous attempt to move to electronic voting which was a programme slated for implementation with help of the Canadians, but was eventually placed on the backburner.
“I think we could, in the first instance, move to electronic transmission of the results. That would solve the problem of the quickness of the delivery of the results. There are logistical problems of transmitting our results that contribute to taking some time,” said Alexander.
He explained that as the e-Government programme reaches more hinterland communities the infrastructural groundwork is being laid to facilitate more communication in areas which were essentially cut off digitally from the rest of the country.
“We should start the electronic transmission of the results, but it doesn’t have to be in every place. Local Government Elections can also be used as a pilot in terms of enhancing our system for things we want to do nationally. You can try them locally and in so doing you don’t have to try them in every local authority,” Alexander stated.
Unlike the national elections, the local elections are not as contentious as the results are usually known very early at the individual polling stations. Alexander stated that the pilots shouldn’t be too costly.
Shortly after the May 11, 2015 General Elections results were declared, President David Granger said that Guyana must do better in the time it takes to announce the final results to the public. It took the Commission roughly five days to declare the coalition victory and a further two weeks to have them published in the Gazette.
Alexander is cognizant of the tensions caused by GECOM’s delay in declaring the results. He believes that the delay is not a source of absence of trust at the level of the parties contesting the elections, but a concern to the voters.
“The parties may be exercising some pretense in that regard. These parties are themselves in possession of the results. They can literally, and I think they do to a very large extent, know what the result is even before it is made known because their representatives leave the polling stations with a copy.
The parties are able to communicate with their centre and can do a compilation. I don’t think that’s a real problem for the parties, but the public,” Alexander pointed out.
He shared that the public is led by certain perceptions mainly due to the tendency and gave the example where the results in Region Four come in to GECOM Centre first. Given the ethnic way in which people vote in Guyana, a person may go to sleep with the A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) way ahead which starts to fashion their thinking.
“Then during the course of the night into the next day, the results from other parts of the country come in and suddenly you wake up and find a big change. I don’t think the people are sufficiently objective to accept what occurs,” Alexander noted.
When voting concludes at 6 p.m. on Election Day, Alexander stated that the results have to be counted at the place of poll, but in some parts of the country, there is no movement of those results until the next day because GECOM is not transferring and transmitting results electronically.
The results have to be compiled in the electoral district, announced, and then those results are brought to the centre for compilation as results from all ten districts.
“We should really have the declaration of ten results in the regions and then those ten results are brought to the centre for summation and the determination of the allocation of seats,” Alexander pointed out.
TRUST & GECOM
Alexander shared instances when GECOM itself had bad experiences where unauthorised personnel used hairpins and found themselves in the computer room. This he said, maybe the cause of some of the concerns of moving to the electronic voting system.
“All of that has raised eye brows that it’s not just the electronic system, but it’s who populates the GECOM system and the fact that there is even sometime suspicion about the people who populate the system. The fact of the matter is we have issues in the past,” Alexander stated.
He said one must never forget in 2006 GECOM declared a wrong result in Linden and even when that wrong result was brought to the attention of the officials at that time, they proceeded to make the declaration, although they said they would fix it.
“One must bear in mind that in 2011, there was a questionable attempt by the very person responsible for the system to declare a false result. Nobody can question this and it was not a matter of error.
“All of that has continued to keep the level of suspicion of the system very high. Some people have even said leave well alone. The greater problem is not the voting; the greater problem is the transmission,” Alexander maintained.
Alexander stated that the GECOM system is also bogged down by nervousness that has not allowed the Commission in the past to release the statement of polls directly to the media, although internally, there are Commissioners who have suggested that once the results are made known at the place of poll, there should be no more filtering from GECOM before it gets to the public via press and television.
He said GECOM still has this culture of filtering the results which also contribute to the uneasiness.
“As soon as the results are declared in the place of poll, the parties have copies. Why can’t the press and the television have access and so the counting is virtually parallel in the sense that the media themselves can be doing the count as those results come out?” Alexander stated.
He added, “There is nervousness in GECOM which in the past has interfered with that. I think that is one of the things we should be doing, giving immediate access, not of filtered results, of the statements of poll. It’s there in the hands of the parties; it’s there on buildings why can’t it be exhibited at the same time with the television?
He reminded that the statements are public documents.
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