No reason why unofficial poll results can’t be released in two days – Ramkarran

Former elections commissioner Ralph Ramkarran says there is no reason why the unofficial election results from the planned May 11 polls cannot be known and accepted within two days if a system of electronic transmission of results from presiding officers to Gecom is established and those results compiled and announced by the electoral body.

Criticising the “extensive” delay in the result for the 2011 elections, Ramkarran said the “obsession” by the parties with announcing results that are physically certified and Gecom’s “pandering” to this is a “function of the suspicions about elections.” In his column in the last Sunday Stabroek, Ramkarran stated that this happens nowhere else. Results from the November 28, 2011 general elections here were made available on December 1, 2011.

“In most established democracies, overall winners and losers are announced on the basis of unofficial election results, a claim of victory by the winner(s) and a conceding to defeat by the loser(s). The usual swearing in of a British Prime Minister the day after general elections is not on the basis of official results. The winner of the US presidential and many other elections in the US are known, determined and accepted long before the official results are declared,” he posited.

Ramkarran noted that for the landmark 1992 general elections the use of telephones or radios was organised for all presiding officers for the purpose of transmitting the results of the voting at polling stations to the chief election officer as soon as the counting was concluded, and just prior to the process of physical delivery commencing. Each presiding officer was also provided with an identifying code number which he/she received with the material in the ballot box on the morning of elections. This code was to be used before stating the results.

Ramkarran pointed out that the 1992 final, certified results, were not materially different from the preliminary results. The preliminary results were known in a few days in 1992 and the exit poll conducted by the Carter Center also accurately predicted the results, he stated. Noting that all of this happened as long ago as 1992, Ramkarran said that additional security measures at little cost are now available to make the delivery of such results by electronic means even speedier and more secure.

Adverting to international observers who he said had commented unfavourably about the delay in 2011 and recommended an earlier announcement of the results, Ramkarran said it remains an issue which has not yet been resolved. He added that it is surprising that there has not been a review of the basis on which results are declared. Referring to a report in SN on January 22, 2015 where the Chairman of Gecom Dr Steve Surujbally in response to a call from the PPP for an earlier declaration of election results said that “while the commission will move expeditiously to declare the results of the upcoming General Elections it will not sacrifice accuracy to do so,” Ramkarran asked if accuracy is only guaranteed by the announcements of results from statements of poll in the physical possession of Gecom.

He contended that certified results are compiled under sections 83 to 90 of the Representation of the People Act. This requires presiding officers of polling stations to count the votes received by contesting parties, prepare the results, deliver copies to various officials, seal them in the ballot box and transport them to the returning officers. The returning officers then have to tabulate the votes for contesting parties within their districts from the returns submitted by all presiding officers of the districts and deliver these results to the chief election officer (CEO).

The CEO then makes his/her calculations and only when this is complete can the final election results be announced. All of this, Ramkarran said, is done manually and material delivered physically on hard copies.

He said it is believed that the practice in Gecom is to announce results for polling places as soon as hard copies of statements of poll are received by the CEO from presiding officers and entered in Gecom’s database in a “slow and painful process”. A steady flow of results can be initially announced as statements of poll come in from Georgetown and nearby areas. This flow, however, gradually decreases as statements of poll take longer and longer to arrive from outlying areas and announcements then become frustratingly slow.

Ramkarran, a former two-term Speaker of the National Assembly, said that after a pale imitation of the 1992 system was attempted for early results in 1997 and failed, the opposition thereafter demanded that only certified results must be announced. As a consequence, Ramkarran said that there is now this inordinate delay in the declaring of results because the physical delivery of the statements of poll have to be made to Gecom’s offices before the results are announced. He said that the PPP went along uncritically with this demand and it is therefore hypocritical for political parties to now demand early results and at the same time insist on an outmoded announcement procedure.

In a statement on February 13, Gecom said that “notwithstanding its greatest desire to provide accurate results of the upcoming May 11 elections at the earliest possible time, it remains exceedingly cognizant of the existing logistical and other challenges it faces in so doing.”

Noting some reports in the media suggesting that the 2015 elections results will most likely be declared the day after the polls, Gecom said “Please be advised that there exists a number of logistical challenges directly related to the geographic peculiarities that exist, not lastly in the hinterland areas. Similarly, there are a number of unforeseen circumstances which can or may occur and which could have an adverse effect on the timely delivery of the elections results.”

It added that all of Guyana represents one single constituency consisting of hundreds of thousands of electors. This means that for it to arrive at accurate results, all votes from all the polling stations across the country must be correctly counted and forwarded to the Chief Election Officer.

Gecom said that political parties have the right by 12 noon on the Tuesday (May 12, 2015) following Elections Day to request a recount. Any such activity would delay the announcement of the Poll results. It added that it should also be remembered that the elections of May 11, 2015 are being held at the commencement of the rainy season.

“This could result in the sudden disappearance of airstrips in the far flung areas of the country, thus precluding a speedy delivery of results from the hinterland. And it should be noted that the implementing of our alternative plans for those eventualities are concomitant with delays,” Gecom said.

It added “Of course, if everything moves smoothly (no flippant or frivolous legal challenges; no weather-related setbacks; no eruption of violence, etc) then we may deliver the results by the following day after the closure of polls.”

 

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