Soaked ballots, missing polling books, other controversies mar Day 1 of recount
Day one of the recount has concluded at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre (ACCC) with its fair share of controversies ranging from soaked ballots to missing poll books, and leaving persons asking, what next?
The initially proposed 08:00h start for the recount was pushed back due to the number of developments that occurred; among them the presence of mystery padlocks on one of the containers containing the ballot boxes.
It is understood that when questioned, none of the political parties’ present could account for the padlocks and chains, resulting in the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) having to cut them open.
There were also difficulties in opening the locks themselves on a container containing ballot boxes, since many of the locks were corroded as a result of exposure to the weather for the past two months. Eventually, these too had to be cut.
There was also disruptive behaviour of APNU/AFC Agent Carol Joseph during the vote recount process of Region Four (Demerara-Mahaica).
Joseph began behaving in a vociferous manner, yelling at other stakeholders present at one of the work stations.
She was heard telling another stakeholder: “Who the hell is you? He has to listen to me; I am a stakeholder here!”
Presidential Candidate of the Liberty and Justice Party (LJP) Lenox Shuman, during an interview with media operatives, expressed concerns about an apparent attempt by the APNU/AFC coalition to derail the process.
“When we were at Ashmin’s Building, there was a person who threatened (violence against other observers)…the lady and (other agents) all tried to disrupt the Region Four count at the very same time…So that could not just be something by chance…It is obviously an attempt to derail the count at this time.”
Joseph was already embroiled in controversy during the vote tabulation for Region Four when she allegedly provoked Executive member of A New and United Guyana (ANUG), Jonathan Yearwood.
On the day in question, Joseph had spent the afternoon haranguing and harassing other representatives from other political parties, including some GECOM staff.
There was also an issue with a ballot box container having a hole in it. It is understood that the container contained ballot boxes from at least three regions. When the container was opened, it was found that water had leaked into the ballot box and soaked the ballots.
At present GECOM is yet to determine a way forward regarding the contents of the box, doing little more than draining the water from the box. While there are concerns that the ballots are damaged beyond repair, others have said that the fact that pencils are used on ballots, would render them smudge proof.
Missing polling day books was another issue, with GECOM only realizing after the start of the recount that the poll books from District One (Region One: Barima/Waini) were not present. These books, which would contain details such as the proxy voters at the particular station, were previously in the possession of the Region One Returning Officer Trevor Harris. However, it has been alleged that he did not hand them over for the recount.
In her interview with the media, GECOM Public Relations Officer Yolanda Ward revealed that the poll books have since been recovered and will be transported to Georgetown.
“There was an issue with the absence of poll books. We’re looking particularly at Region One. We discovered that none of the poll books were present. We have since made arrangements for these poll books to be transported from Region One, and we hope they will get here, maybe by today or Friday, when there’s a flight out from that area.
“We’re told one of the poll books may be missing from the total, but when they arrive, I’ll be able to give a proper update. But we had a situation where party agents were objecting to the absence of those poll books as part of their reconciliation.”
Ward, meanwhile, complained that persons in the recount breached the recount guidelines by using their cellphones to video and stream the various controversies that erupted inside the ACCC.
According to the PRO, persons found breaching the guideline will be warned and, if need be, evicted from the venue.
The Caribbean Community (Caricom) team were meanwhile present in the venue, scrutinizing the process. According to Ward, the three-member team spent the day inspecting the work being done at each of the work stations.
Absent from the recount, however, was the Carter Center, whose attempts to return to Guyana to observe the recount have been blocked by the APNU/AFC Government itself. In an interview at the ACCC, PPP Presidential candidate Dr. Irfaan Ali lamented their absence.