Kaieteur News – The PNC/R had approached the Court, following either the 2001 or 2006 elections, for an Order to ensure that the correct legal procedure was followed in relation to the declaration of the results of those elections. The intention was to have the results declared in accordance with the country’s laws, first by the respective Returning Officers before the Chief Election Officer submits his final report.
Ironically, this legal procedure exposed a loophole in the system. What would happen were a Returning Officer to declare a false result?
We now know how impacting such an eventuality could be. The spread sheet and bed sheet employed, during the March 2020 general and regional elections, exposed the degree to which that loophole could be manipulated.
What happens if any of the Returning Officers declares a concocted result? And what happens if the Chief Election Officer accepts such a perversity? We now know as well the degree of absurdity which can result from the manipulation of these loopholes.
These loopholes should have been the primary focus of electoral reforms. By plugging these loopholes, the electoral system would have become more insulated from attempts to foist false results onto the population.
Guyana’s election system is not perfect but it contains sufficient checks and balances to guard against electoral fraud at the polling station. It is virtually impossible for dead or migrated persons to vote. There are systems in place, which if followed – and they were followed on the 2nd March, 2020 – would guard against voting fraud.
The country’s electoral system balances enfranchisement with protection against voter impersonation. And the system therefore does not require the institution of the sort of draconian penalties which are now being proposed.
Those penalties will deter persons from applying to work on Election Day. There is need to deter election fraud at all levels of the electoral process, but draconian penalties will be counterproductive and unnecessary, especially given the numerous checks and balances which are inherent to the present system.
Where there is need to develop greater checks and balances is at the levels of the post-Election Day processes. Specifically, those checks and balances should be geared to ensure that the respective Returning Officers are compelled to undertake their tabulations strictly, and only on the basis of the certified copies of the Statements of Polls. This process should be made more transparent. It should be conducted in the presence of Polling Agents and the representatives of the political parties. No Returning Officer should be so empowered to declare results before the tabulations are complete.
Instead of zeroing in on these areas, the present preoccupation seems to be with determining who should be the Chief Election Officer (CEO). It does not matter if the CEO is black, brown, white or blue. So long as there are adequate systems of checks and balances to counteract and countervail the CEO from doing as he or she pleases, the ethnic identity of the preferred CEO is irrelevant.
A few years ago, there was a controversy over the actual calculation, using the HARE formula – even I made the same mistake. It is alleged that there was an attempt to give the PPP/C an extra seat. But there was a system of checks which allowed for this mistake to be spotted. The report with the mistake was submitted – not officially declared – and it was submitted for the approval of the Commission – which is a form of check.
One of the Commissioners spotted the mistake. But that mistake of 2011 pales in comparison to what was attempted in 2020.
At present, there is intense political jostling for the post of Chief Election Officer. No doubt, the Chief Election Officer should be subject to greater checks and balances. That person should not be allowed to go on his or her own frolic and to determine valid or invalid votes. The declaration of that person should be rule-based and subject to oversight and instruction from the Commission proper.
The reforms to the country’s election laws, which were recently drafted, are proposing to disaggregate the largest district – District 4. This does not change the allocation of seats but is aimed instead at ensuring a faster completion of the tabulations of that District. This makes practical sense since it is District 4 which delays the final declaration of results. With this new system, the final results can be known within two days.
The elections’ laws should also be amended to give all political parties the right to a recount. It should remove the discretion of the Returning Officer to deny a recount.
Elections should not be more complex and difficult than advanced calculus. There is no need for North Korean-styled penalties.
Once there is a capable CEO, that person should be subject to a rule-based system. Instead, therefore, of haggling over the candidates for CEO, greater attention should be paid to strengthening and expanding the existing system of checks and balances to prevent a repeat of the perversions of 2020.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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