Elections results reflected vote, EAB finds

- says Gecom, party SOPs are general match

The results of last year’s elections appear to reflect the will of the people, according to local observer group the Electoral Assistance Bureau (EAB), which has found “incidents, irregularities and discrepancies” that still need an explanation but says they did not occur on a significant scale to alter the outcome of the vote.

In its final report on the election, seen by Stabroek News, the EAB said that except for two discrepancies, the original Statements of Poll (SOPs) in its possession generally matched those held by the Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom), the PPP/C, APNU and the AFC.

“The numbers of the votes involved in the discrepancies were small and insignificant to the overall results of the elections of the elections but the nature of the discrepancies were highly significant in that they brought to the fore the issue of the chain of custody and security of SOPs from the time they are produced and published at polling stations to the time of declaration of elections results,” it said, adding that security and transparency in chain of custody of SOPs were of paramount concern.

“The overall findings of the EAB’s assessment of observer reports and SOPs is that, barring some incidents, irregularities, discrepancies that warrant explanation, and even taking into account stations where there were remarkably high voter turnout spikes, the results of the General and Regional 2011 Elections as declared by Gecom appear to reflect the intention of the electorate,” it added.

Although the report says that the nature of discrepancies and irregularities found raises serious issues about the adequacy of checks and balances in the elections administration process, the electoral laws and Gecom’s current make-up, it will likely be used to bolster the commission’s defence of the declared results, which have been questioned by the major parties. Last week, President Donald Ramotar repeated the claim that the PPP/C won over 50% of the vote, after APNU said its own verification left the presidency in doubt. APNU had been counting on the EAB to substantiate its findings, including electoral misconduct and illegalities.

Of the 4,152 SOPs assessed, the EAB report, which is to be made public today, said two discrepancies were found between Gecom’s scanned SOPs and the SOPs in original collections. At 7 polling stations in Sophia, South Georgetown, the SOPs on Gecom’s scanned copies of SOPs were all signed by one person, the Deputy Returning Officer, and not the Presiding Officers of the polling stations and the witnesses to the count. The EAB said when Gecom’s scanned versions of SOPs were compared with the original SOPs issued and signed by witnesses, all of the counts matched except in one case. “In the case of Division 413332C (U-Y), Polling Station: Guiding Light Healing and Deliverance Ministry (Ballot Box No. 4504), General Elections, the total count for APNU, Total Votes Cast, Total Valid Votes at the station were altered upwards by 20 votes on Gecom’s scanned version compared with the original signed SOP issued at the polling station,” it noted.

The EAB found that the second discrepancy was in Region 4, in the Upper East Coast sub-division. “At a polling station in Cane Grove, Division No. 421214D, Polling Place: Cane Grove Health Centre (Ballot Box. No. 4805) the SOP for the Regional Elections on Gecom scanned version did not match the original in count or signatures of the polling agents and Presiding Officer. On Gecom’s scanned copy, APNU was given 58 more votes that were on the original SOP and AFC was given 3 more. The PPP/C had gained 284 votes that were recorded as zero on the Gecom’s version of the SOP. Further, the Division Number, Name, and Ballot Box number of the Cane Grove SOP on Gecom’s scan appear to have been written over a copy of an SOP that was issued at a polling station on the East Bank, Region 4: Division No. 412111 B-I; Timehri Primary School, Ballot Box. Number: 4022. The name of the Presiding Officer and all signatories to the count on that SOP were identical to the one appearing with the Cane Grove unique identifiers on Gecom scanned version of the Cane Grove SOP,” the report said.

According to the EAB’s report, there was a “high degree of correspondence” between its findings and Gecom’s declared results. However, it did single out polling stations where the total votes cast considerably exceeded the total number of registered voters and said that the discrepancies were so severe that they warrant an explanation. Polling stations at Mainstay Lake Primary, Achiwuib Primary, Karaudanawa and the Diamond Secondary School, where this newspaper previously reported difficulties accessing the statements of polls, were listed among those for which account needed to be given.

In total, the EAB had all-day observers at 1,481 out of 2,076 polling stations on elections day, representing 71.3% coverage. Some 76% of all votes cast in the elections were cast at these stations. The level of all-day observer coverage varied by region, with the lowest coverage in remote hinterland areas, where there were polling stations with a small number of registered electors.

The report detailed that the total votes cast in the elections at stations where there were all-day EAB observers and where the polling and count procedures inside polling stations were found to be “totally acceptable” and “acceptable,” representing 261,612 votes or some 75.4% of the votes cast in the elections. On the other hand, the EAB found that the votes cast in the stations where the procedures were found to be “unacceptable” or “totally unacceptable” were 1,786 or 0.52% of the votes cast in the elections.

“The EAB cannot speak specifically of conditions at the stations not observed. However, of the sample of at least 70 per cent of all polling stations observed, the EAB found that there were no procedural irregularities at 94.8 per cent of the stations. This gives some indication of the quality of the process one may expect of polling stations overall,” it said

The observer group said that in total, there were no procedural irregularities inside the polling station at 1404 stations observed and the polling process at these stations was found to be “totally acceptable.”

Out of the 78 stations where procedural irregularities were observed, according to the EAB, they were found to be of minor significance in 71 stations and the overall conduct of the polls due to procedures inside these polling stations was found to be “acceptable.” The conduct of the polls due to procedures inside the polling station was found to be “unacceptable” at two polling places and “totally unacceptable” at four polling places.

The two stations where the process was deemed “unacceptable” were in regions 1 and 2, at Howard Chapelle Residence, in Region 1, and at Liberty Primary School, in Region 2. At the former, some 15% of the votes cast by persons at the station were rejected because Gecom polling staff had improperly stamped the ballots. At the latter, meanwhile, 18% of eligible voters were given tendered ballots and their votes were not counted. “Overall these irregularities were unacceptable at the level of a polling station but were very small compared with the total counts in these regions,” the EAB, however, added.

Meanwhile, the four polling stations where the polling process was found to be “totally unacceptable” were in regions 3 and 4. One station was in Region 3 and three stations were in Region 4. In the case of Region 3, Crane Primary School Upper Flat Centre (S-Z), the EAB said some 66.5% of the ballots cast in the Regional Elections were rejected due to failure of Gecom polling staff to properly stamp the ballots.

“This significantly affected the results of the Regional Election at that polling station,” it noted, although the total votes cast at the station was 0.4 per cent of the total votes cast in Region 3 and was insignificant to the overall result of the election. The three polling stations in Region 4 ranked as totally unacceptable, it added, were provisionally ranked as such due to reports of “blatant violations” of the electoral laws by Gecom polling day staff. “Several persons were reportedly allowed to vote more than once. The total votes cast at these stations amount to 0.6 per cent of the total votes cast at stations observed in Region 4 and 0.4 per cent of all votes cast in Region 4. These numbers are insignificant to the overall results of the elections in Region 4. The verification process is still ongoing and the results will be issued as an addendum to this report when this process is concluded,” it added.

The issues at these stations were related to the quality of administration of the elections by Gecom staff and Gecom’s internal quality checks and assurance processes, according to the report. “However, at three stations provisionally ranked unacceptable for breaches of the electoral law, there appeared to be willful intent on the part of the Gecom employees involved and members of the public to jointly manipulate the electoral process,” it said, while calling into question Gecom’s administration and safeguard measures.

“However, from what is currently known, the incidents are completely illegal and they bring to the fore critical issues related to Gecom’s polling staff recruitment process and internal quality checks as well as the adequacy of safeguard mechanisms associated with independent polling agents witnessing the polling process, as there was a breakdown in the process sometime in the afternoon when the alleged breaches occurred,” the report noted.

Also coming in for criticism was the absence of a standardised training programme for polling agents, no minimum requirement for the number of independent polling agents to be registered in order for a station to be active, and no means through which one can determine from a SOP whether the entire polling process was actually witnessed by polling agents that are signatories to the SOPs.

The EAB also raised concerns about violence and intimidation at polling places—in some instances the gathering of persons vigilante style—while calling into question the effectiveness of the code of conduct for political parties. Though none of those incidents at 30 polling stations was big enough to change the outcome of the poll, the election monitoring body noted that police arrested few persons. That was the case, the EAB said, although the relevant laws were breached.

“Where enforcement is concerned, aside from arrests of two persons that were not authorised to be in polling stations that were apprehended by the crowds for various reasons and effective efforts to contain the level of agitation among the crowds, the police made no arrests of the majority of persons who breached the law on election day,” according to the EAB. “When put in perspective, the levels of occurrence of these incidents were small overall and did not affect the polls in a manner that could have altered the results of the elections,” it added.

The report said that although procedural violations were of a small percentage and would not have influenced the overall results of the elections, it brought to the fore issues worth reviewing and the elections watchdog has made recommendations to make for the smoother running of the next general elections.

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