Not intention of GECOM to disenfranchise anyone – GECOM Chair
In light of mounting concerns over GECOM’s intention to remove some 25,000 persons from the voters’ list who have not uplifted their national identification (ID) cards for over a decade, Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Chairperson, Retired Justice Claudette Singh has assured that these persons would still be allowed to vote at next year’s March 2 General and Regional Elections.
During an interview on local radio programme “The Political Show” – her first such engagement since taking the helm of the Elections Commission – Justice Singh explained that the issue was really about the verification of these approximately 25,000 persons, who, since the 2008 House-to-House Registration exercise, have not uplifted their ID cards.
As such, she noted that she took a decision at the level of the seven-member Elections Commission to advertise the names of those persons in the national newspapers – <<<Guyana Times>>>, Stabroek News, Kaieteur News, and the Guyana Chronicle – as well as send, via registered post, a notice to them.
“They’d be given 21 days to come in and just say I’m alive; I don’t want the card or whatever,” she stated.
According to the GECOM Chair, failure to make that verification will result in those persons’ names being removed from the Official List of Electors (OLE) or voters’ list, but they will remain on the National Register of Registrants Database (NRRD), which contains the names of all potential voters from which the voters’ lists are extracted.
“We will remove them from the OLE and place them on another list supplementary to the OLE … So, if on Elections Day, one of those persons turn up [to vote], they would be allowed to vote once they come armed with maybe a passport – some form of identification. So, it is not the intention of GECOM to disenfranchise anyone despite what you might have heard,” Justice Singh contended.
The People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Opposition has expressed concern over the move by GECOM to remove thousands of persons from the voters’ list, saying that it was not only in violation of the law but against Justice Singh’s own ruling in the 1997 Esther Pereira elections petition case.
However, the GECOM Chair was firm that the decision was already made on the way forward regarding this matter and that the Opposition was aware of this.
“A decision was taken to remove the names from the OLE, but in implementing that decision, that is the way we will go forward, because I am very mindful of anybody being disenfranchised,” she stressed.
Despite GECOM moving ahead with the removal of the names of those persons who failed to uplift their ID cards, former GECOM Chairman, Dr Steve Surujbally, had revealed that persons had voted without ID cards in the 2001 and 2006 elections without being disenfranchised.
Speaking at the time about uncollected ID cards, Dr Surujbally noted that there were over 35,000 ID cards still sitting at GECOM that belonged to persons registered since 2008. He had reiterated that persons would not need ID cards to vote at the May 11, 2015 elections since the requirement to vote is being registered.
In the Esther Pereira case, Justice Singh, while a High Court Judge, had ruled in 2001 that the then requirement for voters to have a voter’s ID card in the 1997 elections was ultra vires Articles 59 and 159 of the Constitution (despite a parliamentary agreement to use the cards).
Pereira, a People’s National Congress (PNC) supporter, had petitioned the High Court to set aside the results of the 1997 elections, which was vitiated.
Moreover, only in August, acting Chief Justice Roxane George had ruled that persons could not be removed from the voters’ list unless certain criteria provided for in the Constitution were met such as death or disqualification under Article 159 (2), (3) and (4).
Article 159 (2) states: “… a person shall be qualified to be registered as an elector for elections if, and shall not be so qualified unless, on the qualifying date, he or she is of the age of eighteen years or upwards and either – (a) is a citizen of Guyana; or (b) is a Commonwealth citizen who is not a citizen of Guyana and who is domiciled and resident in Guyana and has been so resident for a period of one year immediately preceding the qualifying date; and (c) satisfies such other qualifications as may be prescribed by or under any law.”
Subsection (3) added: “No person shall be qualified to be so registered who on the qualifying date is a person certified to be insane or otherwise adjudged to be of unsound mind under any law in force in Guyana.”
Meanwhile, Subsection (4) of the Article says: “No person shall be qualified to be so registered if during such period (not exceeding five years) preceding the qualifying date as may be prescribed by Parliament, he or she has been convicted by a court of any offence connected with elections that is so prescribed or has been reported guilty of such an offence by the High Court in proceedings under Article 163: Provided that Parliament may empower the court to exempt a person from disqualification for registration on account of such a conviction or report if the court deems it just so to do.”