Jun 16, 2020 News
The three-person CARICOM Observation Team, comprising Cynthia Barrow-Giles, Sylvester
King and John Jarvis arrived in Guyana on May 01, 2020 to observe the recount of the votes cast
on March 02, 2020. The arrival of the Team followed the invitation of the Retired Justice Claudette Singh, Chair of GECOM, to the Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) requesting the return of the CARICOM High-Level Team. The High-Level Team had been dispatched to Guyana in March 2020 to scrutinize and supervise the recount of the votes. As history would now show, the mission was aborted. In the interim, there was intense high-level negotiations which culminated in the selection of the three-person team.
Dispute resolution is an accepted part of electoral governance and the proposed national recount of the March 02, 2020 General and Regional Elections in Guyana is but one example of such.
What remains still unclear is the Commission’s perception of what a recount actually constituted
given the contours and the elaborate process which was outlined by the Gazetted Order and the
work order plan issued by the administrative arm of the Commission.
Having arrived in Guyana on May 01, 2020 it was not until May 04, that GECOM finally published the Order in the Gazette. This was preceded by a discussion with GECOM on the Order itself and changes to that Order, given the concerns of the Team that the draft Order had conceived of an elevated role for the CARICOM Team. Having settled that issue on May 02, 2020, the Team had to wait for another four days before the first ballot box could be delivered to the work station and the recount officially commenced.
There is of course little doubt that the resolution of the election dispute in the country was not
handled with the degree of efficiency that one would have anticipated given that electoral violence is not an uncommon phenomenon in the country. Nevertheless, the Team wishes to offer its congratulations to the many GECOM workers who laboured long hours over a course of thirty-three days to bring the disputed election results to a near end, for this was but just one of the four stages outlined by the Gazetted Order on the national recount.
From the outset, the Team wishes to acknowledge that the exercise that we observed was not in
fact a recount. It was an audit of the votes cast on March 02, 2020 and from the start it was
conceived as an audit, notwithstanding the statements on a national recount.
A recount of votes means exactly that, a counting of the ballots cast. In this case, the so-called recount extended to issues normally reserved for an audit of ballots cast in an election.
The public utterances of some GECOM Commissioners, political pundits and politicians may have sounded an ominous tone for the 2020 elections, with the partisan driven and distorted narrative on migrant voting, phantom voting, and implied voter impersonation. The recounting of the votes was conducted with as much precision as possible and with absolutely no hint of bias shown on the part of the GECOM station workers. Their impartiality with respect to the actual vote recount was outstanding.
Overall, while we acknowledge that there were some defects in the recount of the March 02, 2020 votes cast for the General and Regional Elections in Guyana, the Team did not witness anything which would render de recount, and by extension, the casting of the ballot on March 02, so grievously deficient procedurally or technically, (despite some irregularities), or sufficiently deficient to have thwarted the will of the people and consequently preventing the election results
and its declaration by GECOM from reflecting the will of the voters. The actual count of the vote
was indeed transparent.
The Global Health Pandemic and the Return of CARICOM
It would be remiss of the Team if we did not assess the impact of the global health pandemic on
CARICOM’s ability to organise for the recount and its effects on the overall management of the
Firstly, the ability of CARICOM to identify persons who were willing to travel during this period
of heightened restrictions was constrained. However, once the Team had been identified, the
CARICOM Secretariat through its Secretary-General Irwin La Rocque had to engage with the
Guyana National COVID-19 Task Force, given the closure of the borders of the country. After intense negotiations, the way was paved for the return of CARICOM thus removing an important hurdle to the ability of the regional organisation to observe the national recount of the votes.
Recounting over two thousand ballot boxes (2,339) is no small feat and the global health pandemic clearly would have had an impact on the organisation of the recount process. While GECOM generally determines its modus operandi, the establishment of the National COVID-19 Task Force from the perspective of GECOM necessitated that the Commission observe the safety protocols determined by the Task Force. Among other things, the National Task Force required that social and physical distancing protocols were put in place. The protocols recommended by this imperative limited the number of work stations established at the Centre as well as the number of personnel.
One of the first acts of the Commission was to seek the support of the Task Force in extending the hours of work beyond the national set time of 6:00 p.m. for the start of the curfew. In this the Commission was successful, with the Task Force agreeing to an extension to 7:00p.m. daily.
The Gazetted Order and Amendment to the Order
The Gazetted Order for the recount established in part a convoluted process for the final declarations of the results of the election which required submissions of reports and resubmission of reports as well as deliberations of the Commission before a final declaration could be made.
Furthermore, the Order which was issued a mere two days before the stated date for the start of
the process, in a sense used language which would ensure that the Order had to be amended. We
refer to the reference to the 25 days maximum limit of the recount, rather than stating not less than 25 days. This required an amendment to the Order as it became clear that the recount could not be concluded in 25 days.
Another issue was the statement on the number of work stations, which the Order limited to a maximum of 10. This was to prove detrimental and occupied a tremendous amount of the time of the Chair of GECOM as she sought approval of the task force for an increase in the number of
work stations in order to expedite the process of the recount. It must be noted that not all the
Commissioners were supportive of the need for additional work stations.
We note, that the Order outlined the procedures to be followed at the recount which was faithfully followed by the CEO in his stated work plan for the recount. From the outset then, we recognized that the Order called for an audit rather than a mere counting of the ballots and we do believe that this was a colossal error on the part of the Commission, for it facilitated delay ensuring that the recount could not be completed within or by the stipulated period.
GECOM’s Stated Work Plan for the Recount
The national recount which commenced on May 06, at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre was
held in accordance with the stated processes under Sections 83, 84 (6)-(11), 87, 89 (1) and 90 of
the Representation of the People Act. In keeping with the Work Plan, the removal and relocation of the containers of the ballot boxes for the recount to the Arthur Chung Conference Centre occurred from May 01, 2020 and was accompanied by the persons who were entitled to accompany the conveyance of the ballot boxes. Further, the same procedures used for the counting of the ballots at the March 02 polls consistent with ROPA were used (84.1). Additional ROPA’s provisions for the identification of valid votes were clearly outlined under Section 87 (2) (a) (b) (c) and (d), 87 (3) (1) and (II) in relation to what constituted a clear intent of the voter.
In addition to the party representatives and candidates to monitor the recount (if the latter chose to the present), GECOM’s Work Plan also provided for the presence of one local observer in each station including the Tabulation Centre and the CARICOM Observer Team. Indeed, under Section 2 (1) of GECOM’s Work Plan, the national recount was to be “executed in the presence of a CARICOM High-Level Team”. CARICOM was thus seen as an indispensable component of the national recount exercise. Given the above, and the public audio broadcast of the process, the recount process was conducted in a transparent manner.
As a direct result of the intense interest in the outcome of the recount and in the interest of transparency, the Work Plan of GECOM provided for the progress of the national recount to be broadcast to the public via live audio broadcast from every work station and live streaming from the Tabulation Centre where the votes would be tabulated from each and every ballot box as the
Statements of Recount (SOR’s) were delivered.
The Work Plan also provided for a clear path to dispute resolution which did not include the
Commissioners at the level of the work stations. As a general rule this was followed scrupulously
and ensured a high level of transparency at all times.
Methodology of the Teams The Recount Strategy
In as much as the Team comprised three persons, it was accepted that it was virtually impossible
to deploy throughout the Arthur Chung Conference Centre and be present at every one of the work stations. An early decision was therefore taken that the Team would realise greater results by concentrating its efforts in Region 4, and visit the other stations in Regions 1 through 3, these being the 4 regions/districts where the recount began.
By the end of the recount process, the Team was able to observe the recount process in 423 work
stations across the 10 Regions, with Regions 3 and 4 accounting for the majority of the observed
recount process. We were constrained further in our observation of the work stations in as much as the Team Leader had to be present in the Tabulation Centre on a daily basis.
The Process of the Recount and Observations
Every work station the team observed during thirty-three-day period of the actual recounting process was manned by four members of the GECOM staff. Based on what we saw at the recount, it was clear that GECOM staff who managed the vast majority of the work stations which we observed were for the most part well trained in the basic procedural matters. However, it was also evident that there were varying degrees of efficiency and effectiveness of the staff.
During the first week of the recount process, the pace of the recount was extremely slow,
sometimes excruciatingly so, primarily as a result of the following factors:
-GECOM’s elaborate and unnecessary checklist (see Appendix IV). A checklist which was unnecessarily/excessively burdensome and which was suggestive of an audit rather than a
-Over vigilance of the party counting agents;
-Uncertainty of the Staff;
-Obvious intimidation and trepidation of the staff in the face of extreme pressure from party
-Unsure staff, which often necessitated the supervisor referring basic issues to Regional Coordinators.
While there was some inconsistency across the work stations in following the work plan, the Team did not view these variations as detrimental to the recount. Indeed, the recount was meticulous with the staff working under extreme pressure from party agents and the weight of the exercise.
For the most part, GECOM followed faithfully its stated Work Plan with the requisite number of
persons in the polling stations.
The requirement for a manual recount of the ballots by definition, ensured a level of inefficiency as it required the individual reviewing of the paper ballots and the announcement of each vote.
For transparency purposes, the ballots were first scanned for the watermark, then placed under a scanner and projected on a 65-inch television screen for the benefit of the counting agents and observers in the counting stations. A second official recorded each announced vote for the respective party list of candidates for both the general and regional election which were recounted separately
Outside of the counting of the ballots the work station staff consistently looked for any anomalies such as:
-whether the number of ballots exceeded the registered voters on the Official List of Electors
(OLE) and the number of counterfoils issued;
-the existence of any registered justification for persons voting outside their region on
polling district (poll books were useful here). Much was made of so-called migrant voters
(out of jurisdiction) und “phantom voters” but no proof was offered as to the ineligibility
of the persons who voted;
-Absence of poll books and other material.
Where there were some minor issues, the Team did not view these as sinister. Nothing we saw up to the closing days of the recount suggested that the poll workers on March 02, 2020 conducted themselves in a manner which would indicate illegality or a deliberate intent to benefit a particular list of candidates over another. However, during the last few days of the recount, the Team observed several boxes which did not contain the statutory documents, such as poll books, unused ballot papers, the OLE, counterfoil of used ballots and so on.
In the Team’s assessment, many of the issues which emerged at the recount and which contributed to excessive delay in what was to be a technical exercise but which proved to be a political exercise was done primarily with the political objective of preparing the groundwork for a post recount legal challenge of the recount. We are also buoyed in our assessment of this political objective given the public statements of the Attorney General of Guyana on the validity of the recount; a comment which the Team felt was a snub to CARICOM by the Government’s legal advisor.
Further, we are of the firm opinion that the decision to insist on the elaborate checklist for the
recount was a questionable one, indeed a bad decision, which contributed to the lengthy and
unreasonable length of time to recount the ballots. In essence what occurred at the recount was
more akin to an audit and not a recount. Indeed, we have concluded that delay was deliberately
built into the system, given the Work Plan produced by GECOM and that the process could have
been accelerated without sacrificing the vaunted and necessary transparency of the recount
• Basket of Issues
One of the issues raised by the CARICOM Team in its meeting with GECOM on May 1, 2020 at
the Arthur Chung Conference Centre was the need to collate a basket of issues for the work station which would be easily and consistently used to resolve issues which arose. This was done.
It was also observed that the basket of issues presented some challenges for the staff managing the recount. It was noted that changes were made to the contents in the basket and staff members as well as the CARICOM Team were too frequently unaware of such changes. We were later advised that the Basket of Issues was prepared by the Commissioners which was signed by the legal officer for the Board. This came as a surprise to the Team as we were under the assumption that the Basket had been prepared by the Secretariat as the administrative arm of the Commission. The Secretariat itself had problems with the Basket of issues as some of the identified items were contrary to the statutory instrument and did invite tremendous debate in the work stations. Notably was the issue of what constituted a valid vote and its’ opposite, a rejected ballot.
• Behaviour of Party Representatives in Work Stations
The level of aggression displayed by some agents in the recount Work Stations leaves much to be desired. Indeed, the conduct displayed by some of the observed party agents (APNU/AFC) was totally unacceptable. Having noted this, however, it is important to say that the presence of the agents was critical for many reasons, not least among which of course is the issue of transparency.
The agents, particularly the representatives of the APNU/AFC and PPP/ Civic, were diligent
advocates and defenders of their respective parties. Further, they served as that important fifth set
of eyes so to speak where, for a variety of reasons, GECOM staff were unable to detect errors.
• Demands for Information on Serial Numbers by Agents
The numerous requests for information on serial numbers were so bizarre, that on one observed
occasion, an APNU/AFC agent was prepared to query serial numbers on the OLE in a Work
Station where no one had voted. These challenges were often made on the grounds of:
• Death, and
Presumably therefore, the contention is that in the March 02, 2020 polls, the phenomenon of ghost voting occurred as well as voter impersonation and other forms of voter fraud.
The Team viewed much of the exercise as a fishing expedition designed to gather data for a
possible election petition and which resulted in considerable time being wasted during the recount.
Furthermore, the net was cast extremely wide in the hope of at least making a small catch and at
times the anticipated harvest ended in slim pickings. In only one observed recount of a ballot box
was the number of queried serials confirmed as having voted in fact significant relative to the
The Team did not view the objections raised by the APNU/AFC as materially relevant to the
recount of the ballot, though these objections based on the information provided by GECOM to
the party agents, signaled the possibility of a padded voters list which GECOM as a body must
deal with expeditiously. Moreover, we simply have no evidence as to who were the ultimate
beneficiaries of the alleged “ghost voting” and voter impersonation.
Given the issue of transparency, the decision to provide an audio feed of the recount in every work station for public consumption no doubt contributed to the overall transparency of the process.
• Absence of Statutory Documents
One issue to emerge during the recount was the absence of sensitive material. For the Team, the
combined absence of used counterfoils in conjunction with the absence of marked OLE’s in several work stations led to supervisors observing in their work station reports that they could not validate the votes cast. The absence of these statutory documents in the 29 ballot boxes in the face of what was an audit is troubling. However, the Team did not view their absence as fatal to the recount but pointed to the need for a serious investigation by GECOM. If, as the CEO constantly reminded the Team, the workers were well-trained, we indeed found it odd that such a significant number of boxes were so impacted.
Overall, during the process of the recount, the Team did not observe any bias in terms of election
errors which may have occurred on poll day. At the level of the Work Station, we did not observe evidence of deliberate and purposeful intention to subvert the poll and the recount process (except for the excessive delays attributed to a number of factors), on the part of those who were charged with administering the recount.
The Team does not view the irregularities identified, amounted to sufficient grounds to invalidate
the tabulation of the votes at the recount and therefore these irregularities DO NOT constitute
sufficient grounds to challenge the integrity of the recount process. While there were some
irregularities, and violations of the Gazetted Order and work processes as outlined by GECOM,
these were insubstantial. We found no intentional miscounting of the ballots which would
constitute an election fraud necessitating further action. During the recount, the Work Station staff worked diligently, under immense pressure to bring to a close the recount of the votes.
GECOM: A Problem
“What the Commission wants, is what the Commission gets”.
Election management bodies (EMBS) constitute one of the most important institutions in any
democracy, and are generally viewed as guardians of the democratic order. While GECOM is
described as an independent body, it is undoubtedly a political Commission, and herein lies most
of the problems, the paralysis, and the factionalism experienced by that body. The level of internal discord which is acutely manifested in the public posturing of individual Commissioners, is the norm in Guyana and unfortunately was on full and ugly display in the 2020 elections and its aftermath. This is unsurprising given the tribalised nature of politics in the country and the appointment process of Commissioners. Their subsequent behaviour, and their public posturing are functions of the ethnic bused politics in the country combined with the zero-sum politics of the intrinsically Westminster arrangements which are deeply embedded in Guyana despite the more significant post-independence alterations to the inherited political model of government.
What is obvious is that the structural independence of GECOM from the machinery of government is not equated with its impartiality. Indeed, from its beginning, given the intrinsic distrust and ethnic polarisation in the country, GECOM was never conceptualised as an institution which would exemplify autonomy from partisan political influences. While this model of balanced partisan representation – not unique in the Commonwealth Caribbean – in which the two dominant parties have equal representation and input was born out of a particular historical conjecture, it has served its initial purpose.
Conclusion and Recommendations
The national recount process then, despite some of its administrative failings, despite some of the
minor flaws, is not an indictment of the 2020 polls and the Team categorically rejects the concerted public efforts to discredit the 2020 poll up to the disastrous Region 4 tabulation. Despite our concerns, nothing that we witnessed warrants a challenge to the inescapable conclusion that the recount results are acceptable and should constitute the basis of the declaration of the results of the March 02, 2020 elections. Any aggrieved political party has been afforded the right to seek redress before the courts in the form of an election petition.
The controversial nature of the 2020 General and Regional Elections affords Guyana an
opportunity to revisit its electoral governance system and in particular its primary institution that of GECOM on the basis of its less than stellar performance.
The Team therefore recommends the following:
• We insist that to maintain GECOM in its present form would be a tragedy for the nation and the people of Guyana. GECOM, as we indicated, is a creature of the dominant political parties and there is consequently little interest on the part of Commissioners in ensuring that elections and the electoral environment are conducive to integrity based elections which will reflect the will of the people. The Commissioners are primarily, though not exclusively dominated by the ethos of positing their respective parties to political victory. We therefore urge the immediate rethinking of the structural organisation of GECOM particularly with respect to selection of the Commissioners.
• A political audit of GECOM (its successes and failing and the factors contributing to this), both the commission and its administrative arm, is urgently warranted. It therefore behoves whichever political party emerges victorious from these elections initiate an immediate political audit as, in a very real sense, GECOM betrayed its obligations to behave impartially and independently.
• Greater emphasis on voter education, especially with regard to the handling of ballot papers by presiding officers and citizens.
• A code of conduct governing the behaviour of party agents should be established in concert with the political parties.
• The Team strongly recommends an investigation into the missing documents.
• As a minimum condition of electoral reform, the Team recommends the urgent need for the total re-registration of all voters in Guyana.
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