Judge to decide on inspection of ballots today

(By Ernesto Cooke) – An application by the Opposition NDP to inspect ballots from the 2015 general elections will be decided upon today by High Court judge Justice Esco Henry.

The Judge will hand down her decision in the long-running election petitions battle, a case that the main opposition party brought before the court since the conclusion of the 2015 elections.

The opposition is contesting that in two constituencies the elections were stolen, in Central Leeward and North Windward.

Lawyers for Ben Eexter the Central Leeward candidate for NDP states that the ballots were not designed according to election rules, hence disenfranchising a number of voters.

The NDP is also claiming that the supervisor of elections and returning officer for Central Leeward Winston Gaymes did not act in accordance with the law.

The party claimed invalid ballots were part of the final count which was done even with objections raised by the party’s candidate.

The OAS in there report following the elections noted the following issues in this particular constituency of Central Leeward.

a.Incorrect application of seals: On several ballot boxes, while tie-locks had been placed in the required locations around the perimeter of the box and through the flap covering the slot, the seal was not placed across the slot itself.

In some cases, the seal was placed on the flat part of the box cover, in a fashion similar to a sticker.

In one case (CL-D) the seal was not on the box at all, but was wrapped around one of the locks.

The NDP agents noted that in these cases they could not be certain that tampering had not taken place, and requested that the Returning Officer note their concerns.

b. The absence of Presiding Officer stamp and initials on some ballots: In two ballot boxes, which were both incorrectly sealed, a number of ballots had neither the stamp nor initial of the Presiding Officer.

As this applied to the ballots for both the ULP and the NDP, and as the relevant ballots had been cut in such a way (on the slant) so that a small portion of the ballot had been removed along with the counterfoil, it appeared that the Presiding Officer had simply removed the counterfoil in such a way that his/her stamp and initial remained on the counterfoil itself.

The NDP agents requested permission to view the counterfoils to confirm that the stamp and initials were present. This request was refused by the Returning Officer.

Repeated appeals and objections by the NDP agents were ignored by the Returning Officer

c. The partiality of the Returning Officer: The bias of the Returning Officer towards the ULP candidate and agents was clear.

During the period witnessed by the OAS Observers, they routinely ignored attempts by the NDP agents to gain his attention, responded to their concerns or objections in a dismissive or exasperated fashion, or complained that they were wasting his time.

On the other hand, concerns voiced by ULP agents were immediately addressed and in one particular instance converted by the Returning Officer into a new instruction for the counting process.

It was notable that the instruction was revoked only after a lead ULP agent agreed that it should be.

These points and other parts of the recent report has propelled the Opposition into fourth gear.

On the flip side of the coin, the OAS stated “The process observed took place as follows: The Returning Officer opened the ballot box (he was assisted in this regard by a uniformed police officer) and removed the envelopes containing the candidates’ ballots.

The Returning Officer counted the ballots for the first candidate into stacks and passed the stacks to the Election Clerk who counted them again.

The Election Clerk then passed the stacks to the first NDP agent who handed them over to the second NDP agent for close review and counting.

The process was then repeated for the second candidate. The number totals were compared and agreed.

The OAS also noted notwithstanding the concerns raised, the Observers did not discern any fraudulent or other activities at the Final Count which could have materially affected the outcome of the vote in which the ULP candidate won by 313 votes.

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