Electronic tabulation paves the way for e-voting – outgoing US Ambassador

Elections Reform

By Vahnu Manikchand

Outgoing US Ambassador Perry Holloway believes that electronic tabulation might very well pave the way for the implementation of e-voting in Guyana.
The need for both electoral reform and Constitution reform has long been highlighted, and during the campaign leading up to the 2015 elections which got it into office, the APNU/AFC Coalition had committed to implementing these reforms, but is yet to take tangible steps to do so – something for which it has received much criticism.
However, having observed two Local Government Elections – 2016 and 2018 – during his three-year tenure, which has culminated, Ambassador Holloway has posited that electronic tabulation could help reduce the length of time it takes to announce the results of polling.
“I’m still a big believer that electronic tabulation can go a long way towards getting the results quicker; though I have to admit (that) the last Local Government Elections, the results were pretty timely, and kudos (are due) to GECOM (Guyana Elections Commission) and everybody who worked so hard to make that happen. But it would be nice to be able to almost have near or as close as to instantaneous [results] as you could,” he asserted.
According to the outgoing US diplomat, electronic tabulation is audible, and still requires the electorate to cast their votes on ballot papers which would be placed in ballot boxes. However, the counting process changes and becomes more efficient.
“I observed one centre at the first Local Government Elections, and I think they counted those votes 12 times, and every time it was the same number; it would never change. So why are we counting?
“…I guess someone didn’t like the results, and they wanted to be sure. And I understand counting two or three times, you do want to be sure that every vote counts; but I think electronic tabulation goes a long way for that, and I think it’s a way to ease in the greater electronic voting,” he opined.

However, Ambassador Holloway acknowledged that full electronic voting might be a little difficult, given the lack of internet connectivity throughout the entire country, particularly in the deep hinterland areas.
“But the tabulation, I think, is very doable, and I think it’s a way to get started,” he contended.
According to the outgoing US Ambassador, the Guyana Government can certainly pursue this on its own, using its own funds; or approach some of the different international organisations and even bilateral countries to possibly get some assistance to implement electronic tabulation.
Nevertheless, the US Diplomat pointed out that, having observed the electoral process here and in more than eight other countries, it is difficult to carry out any significant fraud at the actual ballot box during the tabulation process.
“Every system has its flaws, but at the actual box, it seems to me very very hard to commit any significant fraud. Yeah, one guy (can) do something, but like tens of thousands of votes? I mean, there could be other places where the system is weaker, you’d have to talk to some of the experts. But I was very impressed with the sanctity of the box there at the polling stand [in Guyana]. What happens before or after, that’s probably areas we may have to be more vigilant, and I’m sure they are,” Ambassador Holloway stated.
Over the years, there have been numerous and repeated recommendations for the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to undergo reforms. In fact, Elections observer groups both internationally and regionally have been insisting that while GECOM’s purpose for existence is to administer free and fair electoral processes, Guyana should consider reforms that would reduce or eliminate the politicised composition of the elections body, in order to ensure independence and impartiality.
Currently, the elections oversight body is comprised using the Carter Centre model that was introduced for the 1992 elections to guide the composition of GECOM. This model provides for three members each from Government and the Opposition; and the Chairman to be appointed by the President from a list of names submitted to him by the Opposition — a process which many say has since exhausted its usefulness.
In fact, this was the position taken by President Granger back in September during a press conference, where he said that the matter will be included on the agenda to be discussed with Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo.
In turn, Jagdeo had said he is open to having these discussions with the Head of State, but only if the new method proposed would ensure complete impartiality at GECOM.
However, President Granger’s willingness to host talks on the matter comes even as he continues to face heavy criticism over his unilateral appointment of retired Justice James Patterson as the new GECOM Chairman last year, after rejecting three lists of six nominees submitted by the Opposition Leader.
While the need to end the political appointments at the elections body is evident, commentators and political activists have said it is too late now for such reforms to be realized, especially before the highly anticipated 2020 General and Regional Elections – which are to be held in the same year that Guyana will see first oil.