In the 2015 elections, the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) established a polling station in an interior village so as to facilitate five persons voting. The polling station was established so as to accommodate five voters who would have had to travel miles to get to the nearest polling station.
At that polling station, only four persons voted.
GECOM had also established a polling station for one person to vote at Kurotoka Landing. The person did not turn up and therefore no vote was cast at that polling station.
It shows the extent to which GECOM had gone in the past to ensure that every eligible voters was able to cast his or her ballot. It therefore came as a shock to learn that at the “unholiest of hours”, GECOM has decided to no longer have voting at certain private residences, which it had previously designated as polling stations.
The PPPC is accusing GECOM of decommissioning a number of private residences as polling stations, particularly in PPPC strongholds. GECOM is saying that it is following the advice of the Carter Center.
The Carter Center in its Observer Mission Reports on elections in 2001 and 2015 did not make a negative comment about the use of private residences as polling stations. In fact, the Center alluded to the fact that in the 2015 elections a total of 166 polling stations were located at private residences.
There was no recommendation made in either of these two reports for the non-use of private residences as polling stations.
It is true that, as reported in yesterday’s edition of the Kaieteur News, that the Carter Center, while concurring that the use of private residences did not appear to negatively influence public confidence in the electoral process, it did recommend the use of ‘neutral’ venues.
A recommendation for the use of neutral venues does not translate to the decommissioning of private residences as polling stations. The GPSU is a private building. The union is perceived by some Guyanese in certain way. Should the GPSU building not be used as a polling station because of this perception?
The Carter Center recommendation about neutral venues was part of the Appendices to the Report and not part of the main recommendations. It constituted part of a Preliminary Statement, which the Center issued two weeks after the polls. It is instructive that the issue of neutral venues did not find its way into the Conclusions and Recommendations, which are provided on pages 56 to 58.
GECOM would have known about the Carter Center reference to private residence when it compiled its list of polling stations in January of this year. How come it still went ahead and listed private residences as polling stations?
GECOM, more than a month ago, announced the number of polling stations. Did GECOM not know then that private residences were to be used as polling stations? Did it not know then of the recommendation, which it says it is following?
How can GECOM wait until the “unholiest hour” to decommission private residences as polling stations?
And how did GECOM now determine which of the 92 private residences which it designated as polling stations for the 2020 elections were neutral. Is GECOM God? Does it have an inside track into the voting preferences of the owners of those properties?
And how come only certain private residences were decommissioned as polling stations and not others?
And what is a neutral venue? A private residence per se is not a non-neutral venue.
Is a public building always a neutral venue? If a particular government established a building within a community for example, does that building not stand a symbol of performance of that government? Would it equally not be considered as not being neutral?
The election management body should also state what steps it is taking to comply with the observation, made in the 2015 Report by the Carter Centre Observer Mission that no arrangements were put in place for voting by prisoners and patients in public hospitals.
One can understand if there are public buildings, in close proximity to where a private residence, which was to be used as polling station, that GECOM would opt for a switch.
But surely you should not be decommissioning a polling station at a private residence in favour of public building which would force voters to have to travel a much longer distance.
The ultimate aim of electoral arrangements is to enfranchise persons. Not to make it difficult for them to vote.
The PPPC is complaining that in the Mon Repos area as many as 7,000 eligible voters will have to crowd into two contiguous schools in order to exercise their franchise. This obviously will discourage persons from voting. It is a form of disenfranchisement.
The media needs to request that GECOM provides a list of all the private residences which have been decommissioned as polling stations, the areas where these residences are located and the number of eligible voters which were originally assigned to each of these residences.
The media would then be able to determine, through its own investigation, whether persons are going to be inconvenienced by this last minute decision.
The PPPC has pointed to a number of its strongholds in which there is likely to be problems with voting because of the reduction of polling stations. It is not known how many APNU+AFC strongholds are affected but there are a number of areas in which schools are not centrally located and in which also there are no public buildings capable of housing a polling station.
Some villages can be miles deep and thus persons will have to have to walk a long or travel a long distance to exercise their franchise. This is unacceptable.
With less than one week to go before the elections, GECOM is giving the political parties headaches. It has once again thrown a spanner into the elections machinery with a decision, which is highly contentious and fractious.
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