– DRO says he acted on Mingo’s instructions
By Mikaila Prince
The governing Coalition, APNU+AFC, has demanded that the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) discard 29 ballot boxes, threatening thousands of votes cast by electors from the East Coast of Demerara.
The Coalition’s demand came after it was discovered that statutory documents such as the counterfoils, Official List of Electors (OLE), poll books, folios, spoiled ballots, damaged ballots, and proxies were found to be missing upon examination of the boxes during the national recount.
In a correspondence to the Chair of GECOM, Justice (ret’d) Claudette Singh, dated at June 6, Executive of the APNU+AFC, Joseph Harmon, submitted a list of the 29 ballots boxes in which documents were absent from, and according to Harmon, were discovered missing between during June 4 to 5.
With the aim of providing clarity, however, former Deputy Returning Officer (DRO), Paul Jaisingh, who was operating at the Chateau Margot Primary School, says that he was instructed not to include those statutory documents.
“Please be informed that instructions were given by Miss Carlyn Duncan (clerk to the Returning Officer Mr. Clairmont Mingo-District Four) to include only unused, valid and rejected ballots in the ballot boxes. This was communicated to the respective Presiding Officers who complied. As a result the other documents were placed in the bag provided,” Jaisingh wrote in an email to the GECOM Chair.
He noted that those instructions were given on Election Day, only a few hours before the close of the poll. More importantly, he was keen to highlight that the instructions were imposed upon other DROs, who according to him, could confirm the same.
Further, a PO who spoke to Kaieteur News on the condition of anonymity, explained that she was also instructed not to include the required documents into the ballot box on the night of the elections.
During an interview with this publication last evening, the PO explained that her DRO had also received instructions from Mingo’s clerk.
The PO specifically stated: “Our DRO, Minerva Stoby-Waldron…she told us not to seal the ballot boxes and the envelopes because she received instructions from the RO’s office which stated that only valid votes, the counterfoils of the used ballots, the rejected ballots as well as the unused ballots had to be contained in the ballot box.”
No one objected to Stoby-Waldron’s orders, since they were “last minute instructions from the RO’s office,” the PO said, and emphasized that the statutory documents were placed into a “supply bag” and subsequently handed to the DRO.
“The RO, CEO and DRO packages,” she said, “were given to her in her hands, but the other documents were placed in a separate envelope and put in the supplies bag—the bags which all the stationery came in… Everything we placed into the envelopes and put into that bag.”
GECOM was quick to respond to Jaisingh’s correspondence to the Chair, as well articles published in the media regarding Mingo’s instructions to the DROs.
The Commission claimed yesterday that “a group of DROs who were responsible for clusters of polling stations on the East Coast had submitted a signed statement to the Secretariat of GECOM refuting allegations that the clerk to the Region 4 Returning Officer, Ms. Carolyn Duncan instructed them to advise the Presiding Officers to not include the official documents in the ballot boxes at the close of poll.”
According to GECOM, the DROs explained in their statement that they were advised by Duncan to “make regular checks to all stations ensuring that there was a smooth flow. In case of an emergency or any difficulty encountered, DROs were to make contact with Ms. Duncan.”
It was also claimed that they were also instructed to remind POs to ensure all statutory documents were in the ballot boxes before they were sealed.
That “signed statement” which was alleged to be have been submitted to GECOM by the DROs has not been seen by the media, despite numerous inquiries made with the spokeswoman of GECOM, Yolanda Ward in the GECOM media WhatsApp group.
Four different media houses asked to see the document, but rather than responding those journalists they were left on ‘Read’.
Additionally, Ward was asked to provide a breakdown of DROs in Region Four and the clusters they are responsible for. She was also asked which of the DROs signed onto the letter. She did not respond to any of the questions.
As a consequence, GECOM is yet to explain how the other DROs allegedly refuted Jaisingh’s claim, as each DRO is responsible for a separate group of polling stations.
Nonetheless, the Commission announced that it “is making every effort to ascertain the whereabouts of the documents so that the objections in relation to the boxes with missing documents could be resolved expeditiously.”
Additionally, they refuted reports in the media which stated that decision to not count or tabulate the ballot boxes with missing official documents was taken by the GECOM’s Secretariat in particular, the Chief Election Officer (CEO), Mr. Keith Lowenfield.
“For the sake of clarity, the votes cast for list of candidates contained in those ballot boxes were counted. The absence of documents could only have been detected after the boxes were opened and the contents sorted,” they said.
The matter was brought to the attention of the Commission since there were some objections to the Statements of Recount (SOR) generated for those ballot boxes being included in the tabulation exercise.
In this regard, Chairperson convened a brief meeting yesterday with the Commissioners present at the national recount centre, as well as the CEO.
Following the discussions, the Commission decided that the SORs prepared for those ballot boxes should not be included in the tabulation at this point in time.
The CEO was advised to investigate the reasons why the documents were not included in the ballot boxes and to ascertain where the documents could be found.
“It must be stated categorically,” the Commission said yesterday, “that none of these missing documents are in the possession of the CEO. However, at the conclusion of the meeting, it was discovered that 28 of the 29 SORs were already tabulated. The tabulation supervisor was advised to highlight those figures during the live- stream on the ongoing tabulation for Region 4 pending a decision of the Commission.”
GECOM said that the poll bags have been checked but the documents were not found.
The CEO has also contacted some of the DROs responsible for those areas for a meeting and while they had committed to meet with the CEO yesterday at 16:00hrs, none showed up to be interviewed.
However, the People’s Progressive Party/ Civic (PPP/C), the biggest opposition party, which is in the lead, posited in a statement to the press last evening that: “It is clear that the Secretariat intend to create unnecessary public confusion and excite tension in the public domain by including these issues in a press statement.”
The opposition party argued that: “Rather than deal with the issue internally, with what is clearly an in-house matter, the GECOM Secretariat chose to make a public statement that it received yet another letter from a group of Deputy Returning Officers, apparently from the East Coast of Demerara but it is unclear who these DROs are and whether they are from the same geographical area under review, where the DROs’ dispute the controversial instructions.”
The party stated that it strongly believes that: “This public statement seems to be in concert with the narrative and false allegations peddled by the APNU+AFC, aimed at disenfranchising electors in PPP/C strongholds.”
Calculations by this publication show that the 29 ballot boxes account for close to 7,000 ballots cast, votes now caught in a state of uncertainty following the decision not to tabulate those boxes at this point in time. As of today, 74 boxes remain to be counted.
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