During the requisite Final Count the day after the elections, the mission deployed three observers in the Central Leeward constituency, based on concerns expressed by political parties about irregular activities on election day and at the Preliminary Count on the evening of December 9 in that constituency.
The mission had also received reports that political party supporters were massing outside the Central Leeward counting centre, contributing to an atmosphere of tension and disquiet.
OAS Observers arrived at the counting centre, the Layou Police Station, at approximately 11:00 am, at which time the Final Count had reached the third ballot box. Present for the Count
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 observers noted the following issues during the Final Count at this particular constituency.
a.Incorrect application of seals: On several ballot boxes, while tie-locks had been placed inthe required locations around the perimeter of the box and through the flap covering theslot, the seal was not placed across the slot itself.
In some cases the seal was placed on theflat part of the box cover, in a fashion similar to a sticker. In one case (CL-D) the seal wasnot 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 requestedthat the Returning Officer note their concerns.
b.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 ofthe Presiding Officer.
As this applied to the ballots for both the ULP and the NDP, and as therelevant ballots had been cut in such a way (on the slant) so that a small portion of theballot had been removed along with the counterfoil, it appeared that the Presiding Officerhad simply removed the counterfoil in such a way that his/her stamp and initial remainedon the counterfoil itself.
The NDP agents requested permission to view the counterfoils toconfirm that the stamp and initials were present. This request was refused by theReturning Officer.
Repeated appeals and objections by the NDP agents were ignored by theReturning Officerc.
Partiality of the Returning Officer: The bias of the Returning Officer towards the ULPcandidate and agents was clear.
During the period witnessed by the OAS Observers, the ROroutinely 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 immediatelyaddressed and in one particular instance converted by the Returning Officer into a new after a lead ULP agent agreed that it should be.
OAS Observers departed the counting center at approximately 2:40 pm, at which time two – three boxes remained to be counted.
Members of the CARICOM Electoral Observation Mission, who had arrived at the counting center around 2:20 pm, remained.
Notwithstanding the concerns noted above, the OAS 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.
The aforementioned issues however strongly indicate a need for further training in rules and procedures for staff at all levels of the electoral machinery in order to reduce or eliminate the variations observed in the treatment of the ballots and ballot boxes.
A greater awareness of the need for professionalism and impartiality in the conduct of the electoral process, and closer screening of senior electoral officers to ensure that they comply with this indispensable requirement, will help to ensure citizens have greater faith in the electoral process.