With the removal of private residences in Eccles, East Bank Demerara, as polling places, concern is being expressed that large numbers of voters will be inconvenienced on Election Day by the use of tents in compounds and even a field used to graze cows.
The prevailing concern is that instead of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) facilitating a smooth and easy process, the Secretariat’s decisions will make voting so difficult for voters in Eccles, that they will stay home.
At Eccles Health Centre, which is being used as a polling place, almost 2000 persons are scheduled to vote. When this publication examined the building itself, the interior appeared somewhat cramped to accommodate polling day staff and a crowd of voters.
There is only one entrance and exit into the yard. In addition, voting is a process that can take five to ten minutes for individual voters. In cases where a voter does not have an ID card, they have to be interviewed by the Presiding Officer, who has to compare the voter’s face to the registered voter in the folio.
It is only after the officer is satisfied regarding the voter’s identity and an oath is taken, that they are allowed to vote. This newscast was informed that a tent will be erected in the yard, but even this appeared to be a challenge. Former parliamentarian and Eccles resident, Neil Kumar spoke of the logistical challenges should GECOM go ahead with this plan.
“This polling place has six polling stations. At this polling place, we have 1955 persons registered to vote. Our concern is that when we went into the building and spoke to the doctor, there’s not a single room in the building that can accommodate a Polling Station. Why?”
“A Polling Station will have to have a desk for the Presiding Officer, the Deputy Presiding Officer, the Ballot Clerk, plus they must have a desk for at least nine Polling Agents. None of the rooms can accommodate that. Even if you put them out here, there isn’t room to accommodate six Polling Stations.”
This publication was pointed to a spot in the compound which is the expected location for a tent. Kumar contended that the yard is an unsuitable location. He noted that in the past, several private residences were used in Eccles without incident.
“Right over there, for all the years, we used to use Flamboyant [supermarket] and we use to have four Polling Stations there. We use to use the Singh residence, with two Polling Stations there. They also started using Basil’s shop. So, the area would have been accommodated adequately without any difficulties.”
Recipe for confusion
Former Education Minister Shaik Baksh, another resident, called the arrangement a recipe for confusion. He pointed out that the area, a People’s Progressive Party (PPP) stronghold, usually has a high voter turnout and questioned whether this was the agenda behind cutting down on polling places in the area.
“It is puzzling that up to January, we knew what the Polling Stations were. We were using the private residences. We had seven Polling Stations in this area. So, it’s quite puzzling what is the agenda behind it.”
“We went out there and told the electors in January, February that their Polling Stations remain the same. To suddenly change it to a totally inadequate place, is a recipe for confusion. Because Polling Stations cannot be held in there. And the grounds, if rain fall, oh my. This area is predominantly PPP/C supporters. So that might be the reason behind these moves.”
Nor is that all. This publication also visited a site opposite the Windsor Forest Estates, that has been earmarked by GECOM, complete with a sign, for a polling place that will service 162 voters.
When this publication arrived, however, we were greeted by a large plot of unprepared land which residents informed is used for grazing cows. There is no direct passageway from the road to the intended site, since it is separated by a trench devoid of any bridge.
To access the site, one must either jump the weed-choked trench or walk some distance around, down a red loam pathway.
Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC) Chairman Hafeez Hack was adamant in his belief that the intent is to frustrate voters.
“Of course, of course! If you’re going to place a tent there, you have to go till to that end and come back all the way here. It’s to frustrate people so they say, they not able with this they will go home. That’s the logic behind it.”
When contacted, GECOM Public Relations Officer Yolanda Ward referred this publication to the Representation of the People’s Act. Asked whether the cost was a consideration in replacing private residences with tents, she could not say.
On the use of tents, she noted that tents will be used if no other appropriate building is available in the division. Asked specifically about the rationale of 1955 persons voting at the Eccles Health Centre, Ward noted that she would have to check on that.
The issue of the reduction of polling places was brought to the fore by the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) last week.
The party’s GECOM Commissioners – Bibi Shadick, Sase Gunraj and Robeson Benn – have rejected the unilateral changes made by the Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield and his Secretariat. The party made the discovery while working out the logistics of ensuring that voters are facilitated to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed sovereign franchise, from the list of Polling Stations submitted by GECOM.
PPP/C Chief Scrutineer Zulfikar Mustapha has since said that the decision by GECOM to reduce the polling places will now displace persons and cause chaos.