Jul 31, 2020 Editorial Comments Off on Statements of Poll
With yesterday’s unanimous Court of Appeal decision to throw out the Misenga Jones appeal case, the crux of which was essentially to force GECOM Chair Claudette Singh to use the latest iteration of votes based primarily on Clairmont Mingo’s fraudulent figures in order to declare David Granger as President, Guyanese are now one step towards a sane resolution of the APNU+AFC manufactured electoral impasse.
Which is of course to say that the alternate being offered – the acceptance of Mingo’s figures as sanctified by Keith Lowenfield, and enthusiastically endorsed by the Granger political machinery – is, in a word, insane. Lost in all the convoluted legal cases and language, the premise that the Coalition continues to foist upon us is as simple as it is macabre – it says that despite the fact that the recount shows a finite number of votes as having emerged from the ballot boxes, sane people must accept, without question not only the Coalition’s unproven cases of fraud in those votes that were counted, but that because of that unproven fraud, those same sane people must accept as reality a Granger win based on 15,000 votes, all magically conjured up by Clairmont Mingo, and which have no evidentiary basis in the recount ballots.
At some point in time, a complete investigation into the actions of those involved in trying to rig the 2020 elections will have to be undertaken, followed hopefully by a thorough examination of the legal and systemic loopholes that they exploited to take us through this five-month-long nightmarish circus. On the one hand, certainly there has to be constitutional reform, including restrictions on the powers of the executive presidency and sanctions on anyone occupying that seat of power who decides to act as unreasonably and indecently as Granger has acted after having lost the elections in March. Leaving office in the wake of losing an election should not be at the whim and fancy of the loser, and if any future president seeks to attempt what he has done, there must be clear-cut sanctions and penalties for his or her actions. That is however for the long term.
As is, much of what has gone wrong in the current quagmire has less to do with how far a rogue executive was willing to go to retain power than it had to do with how much he was and has been accommodated in his quest to do so. In all the areas of imminently unnecessary inaction and inertia that played a factor in getting us to where we are today, none is so obvious as the refusal of the Guyana Elections Commission to release the Statements of Poll (SOPs) for all regions, particularly the highly contested Region Four, where Mingo’s clear fraud took place.
It would be useful to explain, for the unaware, what the basic purpose of a Statement of Poll is. The role of the SOP is outlined in the Representation of the People Act (ROPA), Section 83 (9). Under this section, multiple copies of the SOP, the record of votes taking at an individual polling station, must be made and given to “(a) the returning officer; (b) to the assistant presiding officer; (c) to such of the duly appointed candidates or the polling agents as are present; (d) to the Chief Election Officer.” The clear intent of the multiple copies is clear – with redundancy of record, there is greater assurance of accountability. Still, that was not enough for the purposes of the law. Section 83(9A) envisages another category of persons who are eligible to view the SOPs generated at individual polling stations – the citizens of Guyana:
“The statement of poll prepared in accordance with subsection (9) shall be posted in a conspicuous place outside of the polling place as conclusive evidence of the result of the election for that polling place unless there is a recount of the votes.”
That the SOPs are generated by a specific set of electoral officers, that they are captured and preserved at the Place of Poll, and that in that static form, they are both passed up the hierarchical pyramid at GECOM while being made publicly available constitutes a critical component of the process by which we accurately determine the will of the people. The SOP is, in essence, the core currency of the electoral process.
It is surely with this understanding that on December 7, 2011, a little over a week after the November 28 elections, Leader of APNU, Granger, had his party stage a protest in front of GECOM, demanding that the Commission produce the original SOPs for those elections. A month later, in January of 2012, his calls for those original SOPs to be released grew even more strenuous, even in wake of the PPP/C having only gained a minority government, and even after GECOM had provided him with scanned copies of the SOPs on compact discs. Reads a statement from Granger to the GECOM Chair at the time, Dr. Steve Surujbally:
“After a full and careful examination, we have found it impossible to reconcile the two sets of SOPs since in a significant number of instances, the SOPs are not identical, which, you will concede, they ought to be. Consequently, we are renewing our original request to access the original hard copies of the SOPs in GECOM’s possession.”
A decade later, five years of which has been spent with him as incumbent President, Granger’s principled position on the release of SOPs has radically changed. He himself has, as part of his personal regime of hiding from and restricting the media, has almost stayed away completely from the question of the role of Statements of Poll as a determinant of the credibility of the elections. His coalition’s stance on them has, however, devolved with all the inanity and incredulity that has typified all of their actions over the past five months.
When it was that Clairmont Mingo produced that first travesty of a tabulation on March 5, to the dismay of every intelligent observer of the process, no less a person than Granger’s second-in-command of the People’s National Congress (PNC), Chairwoman Volda Lawrence, immediately signed off on what was known then, and subsequently proven to be, electoral fraud, the original Regional Four Declarations. The coalition would go on to claim that the SOPs in their possession matched those that were tabulated by Mingo as well as, naturally, the total figures generated. This would be repeated once more on March 13, with Carol Smith-Joseph, a staunch and prominent political lieutenant of Granger, signing off on the second set of fraudulent declarations made by Mingo.
From that time to now, the Coalition’s answers to questions on their hidden SOPs have continued to shift, from silence to obfuscation to bluster. Questioned in May, during the recount exercise on why Granger would not simply release the SOPs in his position, PNC Executive Aubrey Norton dodged, providing the excuse that the coalition was ‘strategically’ holding back. The same day, AFC executive, David Patterson, offered no greater clarity on the same questions. The man himself, Granger, when asked frontally about the SOPs during a post-recount interview, offered the curious excuse that he had been shown an in-party tabulation that comported with Mingo’s figures but he had not bothered asking for any actual statements of poll. Clearly, 10 years and the burdens of incumbency have served to blunt his desire for SOPs, particularly considering that, unlike in 2011, he has not once demanded that GECOM produce the original Statements of Poll that his party had claimed would show them winning the elections.
Which brings us, finally, to GECOM’s role. As captured in the letter and spirit of the law, Section 83(9) of the ROPA in particular, every Statement of Poll is a public document. GECOM, from the Returning Officer to the Chief Elections Officer, holds it in trust for the public, but does not and should not exercise discretionary proprietary control over it. That we have been allowed to go through legal quagmire after quagmire, that we have been subject to a Granger-led campaign of misinformation that has been as arrogant as it has been insipid, has been largely because the Commission from the very beginning did not demand of both Lowenfield and Mingo access to certified copies of the Region Four statements of poll.
Of course, there have been legal implications as well. How many decisions in the past four months could have been clearer, more definitive, had the SOPs from Region Four been made admissible as evidence? While the incumbent has effectively been defeated in its last desperate legal battle to artificially extend its time in power, the damage of its misinformation remains and has to be rectified in the short term, in the interest of stability. Lowenfield and Mingo should be ordered to turn over the Region Four SOPs and they should be made available to the public, just as the statements of Recount have been. Indeed, there is arguable obligation under the law, ROPA Section 84(1A)(c) to display the SOPs for each polling station next to the SORs.
In the medium term, the Representation of the People Act has to be amended to specify that all SOPs must statutorily be made public using all the technology available with all discretion of hiding them be removed from GECOM. There is no reason that Granger had to go begging for Statements of Poll in 2011, and there is no reason that GECOM should be effectively aiding and abetting his 2020 campaign of obfuscation going forward by not making all original SOPs from March 2 public.
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