Biometrics at the poll without constitutional reform will take Guyana backwards – GECOM Chair
Chairman of the Guyana Election Commission (GECOM), Justice (ret’d) Claudette Singh on Friday highlighted the need for constitutional reform as she addressed, for the first time, the weekly protests mounted outside her office by the political Opposition, premised on calls for a clean voters’ list and the introduction of biometrics.
Calling it a “clamour for the introduction of biometrics,” Singh said this would take Guyana back to the 1990s when persons were required to have a physical identification card to vote, without which they were denied an opportunity to cast their ballot.
Singh, as a High Court Judge at the time, had ruled against that legal requirement in the Esther Perreira case. The use of biometrics would require a voter to use their fingerprints to determine their identity and should the voter refuse, they will be denied the opportunity to vote.
At a news conference, the GECOM Chair made it clear that the introduction of biometrics and the removal of names from the voters’ list would require constitutional reform before that could be done.
“GECOM does not have legal parameters to do this,” Singh said even as she reminded that a Constitutional Reform Commission was set up recently to address these matters.
She used Friday’s press conference, intended to be a post-local government election briefing, to emphasise that there are safeguards already in place to prevent the feared skulduggery at the place of poll.
That safeguard includes, among other things, a folio with the photograph and other particulars of the voter.
Meanwhile, those weekly protests have also been strong in calling for cleaning of the existing voters’ list based on the claim that the list is bloated. But Singh has assured that the names of overseas Guyanese will remain on the register until such time that there is constitutional reform.
Monthly efforts are made to remove the names of dead people from the voters’ register. But already a ruling in the Christopher Ram vs the Attorney General/ GECOM case, the Chief Justice ruled that a person cannot be removed from the list once registered and is alive.
Further, she ruled that residency is not a requirement to vote and as such, Guyanese living abroad could not have their names struck from the voters’ register.
Article 59 of the Constitution stipulates that once a person is 18 years and older and is a citizen of Guyana and registered, that person is entitled to vote.
“Even if a Guyanese citizen is living abroad, GECOM cannot remove their name from the register,” the GECOM Chair emphasised.