Chief Elections Officer (CEO) of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Keith Lowenfield, was on Monday instructed to rework his initial 156-day national recount plan, taking into consideration a proposal made by Opposition-nominated Commissioners for the activity to be completed in as little as 10 days.
Lowenfield’s 156-day recount plan was widely rejected by a number of stakeholders, including the Opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C).
During a marathon meeting held at the Commission’s Kingston headquarters, the Opposition Commissioners presented their counter-proposal which demonstrated how the countrywide recount could be done in the shortest period of time.
Lowenfield’s work-plan had contemplated using three work stations and had allotted two hours each per ballot boxes.
The Opposition GECOM Commissioners’ plan, however, proposes as
many as 20 work station so as to fast-track the process, with regions being tabulated simultaneously.
Speaking with media operatives following the meeting, PPP Commissioner Sase Gunraj estimated that a possible recount of all the districts in the March 2 General and Regional Elections could be done in as little as 10 days.
He explained by pointing out first that Lowenfield’s original plan contemplated three counting stations while the PPP’s proposal contemplated using as many as 20.
According to Gunraj, while Lowenfield has estimated each ballot box to require about two hours each to be completed, “we have reduced that number in half”.
He told media operatives “there are over 1000 ballot boxes in which there are less than 200 ballots cast”.
In fact, Gunraj pointed out that there were in excess of 200 ballot boxes that contain less than 50 ballots and as a consequence, the time for the counting of those boxes “could not be as burdensome as two hours all things considered”.
The PPP Commissioner noted too that Lowenfield’s new plan for an elections recount would now have to take into consideration the physical space available and suggested that there had been consensus to use the Arthur Chung Conference Centre (ACCC).
“It is our intention to look at that venue, to maximise its use in relation to either a combination of either inside and/or outside for the conduct of this process,” Lowenfield said.
He noted that there has been some level of consensus on the counting modalities and reporting mechanisms, but more concrete decisions were to be made at the time when Lowenfield resubmitted his plan for consideration.
The PPP Commissioner did indicate to the media that the 10-day proposal submitted to GECOM did not immediately find favour, but there were still a number of modalities to be worked out.
Asked whether he believed Lowenfield would budge on the 156-day deadline already presented, Gunraj responded in the affirmative stating “yes; in all fairness to the CEO, the CEO’s suggestion of three tables was informed by his understanding that each table should be manned by two Commissioners.”
This, he explained, provided a significant restriction on Lowenfield, since the Commission has six Commissioners meaning only three counting stations could be used in such a scenario.
According to Gunraj, “with the removal of that restriction, I believe that the number of tables can be expanded very easily.”
Government-nominated Commissioner Vincent Alexander gave a similar observation to members of the media in explaining that Lowenfield’s limiting the counting stations to just three was based on what he understood to be an instruction from the Commission, to have two members at each counting station.
He did seek to point out that a firm decision had not been made as yet on the matter, “but it has been clearly understood that that will be included by a number of factors, the time to count the box still a pertinent factor, the venue and how many we can do at one time is still a pertinent factor”.
Alexander suggested that it was very likely that the number of counting stations to be used for the recount would be increased.
Meanwhile, speaking to the issue of observers, especially from the Caribbean Community (Caricom), the PPP Commissioner reported: “we have taken a decision to inform particularly the overseas observers that it is still our desire – and that includes Caricom – to have them participate in this process taking into consideration the prevailing circumstance”, referencing COVID-19 and the international travel and other restrictions.
He said that the accreditations previously approved would remain valid.
Gunraj was quick to point out that, as was presented to the Commission, “we have to treat carefully with any elevated role that Caricom is ascribed”.
Alexander in weighing in on Caricom’s participation said that it would be similar to what was envisaged originally.
According to him, the need for Caricom’s participation stems from the fact “we need that third party even if it’s advisory to say to GECOM that they saw the process and they think that it’s a valid process and we think that that will give credence and credibility to the process”.
This, he said, is in light of the pronouncements by the local courts even as he reminded that the Caricom High-level Delegation –though not being a part of the original cadre of observers—will still have to have their roles in the recount process finalised.
On the matter of having the recount broadcast live, the Commissioner noted that while the discussions did commence, they remain inconclusive and that the GECOM Chairperson, Retired Justice Claudette Singh, would need to vote on the issue.