With Mingo sick, Lowenfield only wanted to use DRO of his choice- Gunraj tells Elections CoI
The tabulation and verification of the votes cast in District Four at the 2020 General and Regional Elections was stalled when the Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo fell ill on March 4, but the Former Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield refused to allow an available Deputy Returning Officer to complete the process in the Mingo’s absence- as is permitted by law.
This was disclosed by Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Commissioner Sase Gunraj on Thursday when he testified before the ongoing Elections Inquiry.
Gunraj, who is a PPP/C-nominated commissioner, detailed the many attempts made by all six Commissioners to resume the stalled vote count.
On March 4, two days after the national elections, there was an apparent departure from the legal processes associated with the vote tabulation and verification. That day, Mingo fell ill and steps to continue the count were needed.
In the first instance, Gunraj related that a spreadsheet was proposed to hasten the process.
“The CEO justified the use of spreadsheets instead of the Statements of Polls (SOPs) on the grounds of expediency,” Gunraj said, emphasising that GECOM never agreed to such actions.
As per Guyana’s law, only the SOPs must be used.
Still, there was continued use of the unlawful spreadsheet that appeared to contain doctored vote counts in favour of the APNU+AFC coalition. Party agents and observers opposed this and called for a resumption of the tabulation and verification of the results.
Even then, another problem unfolded. Gunraj said that Lowenfield seemed opposed to utilising the services of an available Deputy Returning Officer (DRO) in Mingo’s absence.
“He raised the issue of unavailability of staff and I reminded him of the availability of a multitude of Deputy Returning Officers who were appointed by law to carry out functions. And I also reminded him of the statutory powers of the DROs,” Gunraj said.
Of the 70 DROs for this District, there were at least two in the Ashmin’s Building, where the district’s votes were being tabulated and verified. According to Gunraj, however, Lowenfield did not favour any of those DROs.
“I believe the reason (Lowenfield) gave for the refusal was that he was not going to appoint a DRO, or detain a DRO, merely because of his presence but he preferred to have someone of his choice,” Gunraj stated.
Throughout Thursday, the GECOM Commissioner continued to detail many of the concerning incidents that unfolded in the days directly after the March 2 elections. These events in the Region Four vote count were among those that plagued the protracted March 2020 elections