House-to-House registration highly unlikely unless laws are changed – Gunraj

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By Kurt Campbell

When the National Assembly considered the 2021 budget for the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) on March 3, 2021, politicians were engaged in heated exchanges on the topic of House-to-House registration aimed at cleaning the current voters’ list ahead of Local Government Elections (LGE) to be held later this year.

One week later, GECOM held its statutory meeting on Tuesday with Commissioners who represent all sides of the political divide, but in the same vein that the electoral body did not budget for the exercise, no discussions were held on the prospects ahead of LGE.

GECOM’s Chairman, Justice (ret’d) Claudette Singh, would only say that the issue, which she described as a “vex question”, would likely be discussed at a subsequent meeting.

The truth is that House-to-House registration will not happen unless and until there is new legislation that empowers GECOM to do so. This is according to the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) nominated Commissioner, Sase Gunraj.

He confirmed that the Commission engaged in no discussions on House-to-House registration when it sat down for its statutory meeting on Tuesday, and here is why.

Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM Justice (rt’d) Claudette Singh [Photo: DPI]
“House-to-House registration, in the manner contemplated, is outlawed by the judgment of the Chief Justice in the Christopher Ram matter,” Gunraj said in brief comments to the News Room.

He was referring to the August 2019 judgment by Chief Justice (ag), Roxane George, in which she ruled that while House-to-House Registration is not unlawful and is constitutional, the data garnered from that registration exercise must be merged with the existing National Register of Registrants Database (NRRDB).

This ruling had prompted the GECOM Chairman, who had just taken up the post, to cancel an ongoing House-to-House registration exercise. At the time, the interpretation was that once a person was registered, there was no law that allowed for the person’s name to be removed from the register, making the exercise, as contemplated, irrelevant.

“Until there is legislative change or policy change, then House-to-House is not something that the Commission can discuss,” Gunraj insisted.

Although there were dissenting voices to the 2019 ruling by the Chief Justice amid claims that it was flawed, the judgment was never appealed. This means that the decision still stands as a judgment of the court and has to be respected.

Sase Gunraj, GECOM Commissioner

It is against this backdrop that Gunraj has offered his reasoning for the Commission’s position on the issue.  As it is now, GECOM cannot conduct any registration exercise with the intention of striking off names of persons from the register who might be dead or otherwise unable to vote. Instead, what the electoral body is legally empowered to do is to conduct continuous registration exercises to ensure that new voters are added to the list.

While House-to-House registration has been regarded as an important part of cleaning the voters’ list, which has been widely regarded as bloated, it is highly unlikely until there is legislative change.

All sides of the political divide have offered support in the past for as sanitized voter’s list. They must now work towards ensuring that there are widely accepted legal means for this to be done.

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