Despite ‘vehement’ objections, GECOM staff pushed ahead with unlawful method to tabulate Reg. 4 votes – Elections Inquiry hears
Staff of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) ignored concerns raised by most party agents and observers that their method to tabulate the votes from District Four was unlawful, the Elections Commission of Inquiry (COI) heard on Monday.
Rosalinda Rasul, who served as an elections observer for the American Chamber of Commerce Guyana (AmCham) for the March 2, 2020 General and Regional Elections, took the stand at the CoI on Monday.
She told the Commission that she was present at the Ashmin’s Building from March 3 to 5, where suspicious events regarding the tabulation and declaration of the votes for Region Four unfolded.
On March 3, Rasul said the tabulation and verification of the votes went largely unimpeded. The Returning Officer for Region Four, Clairmont Mingo had clearly identified how the process would unfold for the benefit of the party agents and observers.
But the concerning events, she said, started after GECOM officials were supposed to resume the count the next day.
The count did not resume at 09:00hrs as scheduled but agents and parties were eventually told that Mingo had fallen ill.
As stakeholders awaited the resumption of tabulation and verification, Rasul recounted that Roxanne Myers, who was GECOM’s Deputy Chief Elections Officer (DCEO) then, told those gathered in the Ashmin’s Building that a decision was taken to limit the number of agents and observers present.
Only three party agents and two observers per mission would be allowed.
“(Myers) claimed that GECOM staff felt threatened by the number of people in the room,” Rasul recounted.
But the dubious events did not stop there. The count remained stalled with Mingo receiving medical attention but Police presence at the Ashmin’s Building heightened.
And when the count resumed during the afternoon of March 4, Myers instructed the GECOM staff to start verifying votes from the East Bank Demerara (EBD) sub-district.
“… it was met with vehement rejection because the tabulation for (sub-district) Georgetown was not complete and it was not right for GECOM to start to another sub-district without completing that,” Rasul said.
With concerns raised, Myers reportedly promised to look into the incomplete verification of the Georgetown district. That, however, was never realised.
Even then, the AmCham observer, who now serves as the Head of the Diaspora Unit at the Foreign Affairs Ministry, questionable activities continued. A spreadsheet continuing unverified numbers, purportedly drawn from Statements of Polls (SOPs), was now being used.
Based on Guyana’s law, the tabulation and verification of votes must be done using the SOPs. In this instance, however, a spreadsheet that was not shared with party agents or observers was relied on.
“There were lots of objections by everyone except the APNU+AFC (agents) about the use of the spreadsheet.
“There were questions about why this was being used when it was mandatory to use the SOPs,” Rasul said.
Junior GECOM staffers, who were calling figures from the spreadsheet, could not answer why this was now being used. Eventually, then GECOM CEO Keith Lowenfield told the agents and observers that this spreadsheet (referred to as a “broadsheet”) was being used “for expediency”.
“There was no explanation on how that spreadsheet was derived, he did not answer that specific question.
“Additionally, he said that if anyone had any objections or saw any deviation… then they will bring out the specific SOPs to check it,” Rasul further recounted.
As an AmCham observer keenly interested in the figures presented on the spreadsheet, Rasul said she requested a copy of the document from Lowenfield and Myers. A dismissive Lowenfield, she said, told her: “Don’t do that to me.”
The ‘spreadsheet’ woes did not end there. What happened subsequently was that the votes on the document did not correspond with the figures on the SOPs obtained by a majority of the political parties.
Rasul vividly recalled party agents from the People’s Progressive Party Civic and the small parties contesting the elections showing the local and foreign observers figures from the SOPs that did not correspond with the spreadsheet figures.
Only Basil Williams, who served as Attorney General under the APNU+AFC coalition government, has no objections with the spreadsheet.
The count, on March 4, was eventually halted. It was set to resume on March 5.
And it did resume on March 5 and Mingo had returned, in seemingly better health. This time, however, the spreadsheet figures that did not correspond with the SOPs were projected for all to see.
Again, Rasul said the representatives of the political parties and the observers opposed the use of this document. With no reprieve, eventually, Mingo left the room and apparently went to declare the results for this region.
As he stood on a balcony in the Ashmin’s Building, Rasul recalled him reading out figures amid loud opposition from scores of people. Eventually, it was understood that he called out unverified figures from the region.
To Rasul’s knowledge, all of the votes for the East Coast Demerara sub-district and some from Georgetown were yet to be verified. Still, she said he declared results for this region.
“AmCham neither I can say how Mingo came up with those numbers he was declaring on March 5,” Rasul said.
There were 879 polling stations In the Demerara –Mahaica Region of the 2,339 across the country. The largest number of voters -285,610 people –were registered to vote in this region.
These suspicious events in Region Four were among those that plagued the protracted March 2020 elections.
CoI hearings continue on Monday and for the rest of this week.