If fraud committed, new election law proposes jailing Chief Elections Officer for life
If passed in Parliament, an overhaul of the country’s main elections law would allow the Chief Elections Officer to be fined ten million dollars and be jailed for life if fraud is uncovered.
The draft revision of the law, which is called the Representation of the People Act (RoPA), has been made public and is expected to be tabled in the National Assembly before the end of the year.
The draft amendments also propose a simple, transparent way for anyone to add up the votes and determine the winner of the election.
During elections in this country, the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), separates Guyana into ten electoral districts. It then sets up a number of polling places in each district and determines beforehand how many persons can vote at each polling place.
Once voting is complete at a polling place, the votes are added up and the person in charge of the Polling Place, namely the Presiding Officer, would then be required to prepare a statement showing how many votes were cast for each party contesting the election.
All the statements from each district eventually go to one person in the District – the Returning Officer. Under a change proposed in the law, Region Four is broken up into four sub-districts and so the statements from each sub-district would have to go to the Returning Officer.
The Returning Officer for each of the ten districts would then have to prepare some forms, including one called the ‘District Tabulation Form’, to show the total number of votes cast in his district and for which parties.
In the end, each of the statements eventually goes to the Chief Elections Officer who manages the election across the country.
According to the revision of the law proposed, once the CEO receives the statements, he/she would then be required to immediately post an electronic copy of each Statement of Poll on the Commission’s website to be publicly viewed. That way, anyone can add the votes and determine who wins the election.
If the Chief Elections Officer fails to post the statements on the website, he could be charged under the law.
Further, if the Chief Elections Officer knowingly posts or causes to be posted a false electronic copy of a Statement of Poll, he/she would be liable on summary conviction to a fine of ten million dollars and to imprisonment for life.
There is another scenario under which the Chief Elections Office could be jailed for life.
Once he/she receives all the Statements of Poll, he/she would have to calculate the total votes cast for each political party and determine the winner of the election.
The Chief Elections Officer calculates the winner of the elections by adding up the votes as indicated on the forms from each of the districts. Once the CEO is done doing so, he/she prepares a report to give to the Elections Commission to declare the winner of the elections.
Now, under the amendment to the law proposed, the Chief Elections Officer could be fined ten million dollars and be jailed for life if he/she (1) fails to calculate the total number of votes on the basis of information contained in the District Tabulation Forms (2) or if he/she prepares the report with falsified information or if (3) fails to prepare the report altogether or (4) if he/she fails to prepare the report within 12 hours after they are done calculating the votes.
The need to reform the legislation arose after the High Court had found that Clairmont Mingo, the Returning Officer who controlled the March 02, 2020 election process in Region Four, had breached the law when he failed to follow the lawful procedure to arrive at the correct vote count in the region.
His calculations, which were later presented by the Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield to GECOM for declaration, would have allowed clear fraud and provided for the installation for a government that had not won the elections.
Even after a national recount had clearly shown the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) had won the elections, the Chief Elections Officer presented Mingo’s botched fingers until a Court of Appeal decision forced him to present the figures from the recount. This allowed for the PPP government to be sworn in after a five-month delay.
Both Mingo and Lowenfield are now before the courts facing several charges.
The government promised to reform the law to ensure that what happened in the 2020 election never happens again and to ensure that those who attempt fraud are dealt with.