As the opposition A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) continues to hint at the possibility of legal action to address their concern about a bloated voters list and the Guyana Elections Commission’s failure to ensure electors reside where they are registered, one of their Election Commissioners on Sunday pointed to several possible grounds for returning to court.
Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton is on record as saying that the two options to press the case for a clean voters list are political action and “check to see whether there is a legal option.” On whether Mr Alexander and his colleague Election Commissioners- Charles Corbin and Desmond Trotman- would take legal action, Mr Alexander said the political parties would have to provide some guidance. “It isn’t the practice of commissioners to take these matters to court. That has never been the practice and whether or not they go to court, I would think that is a matter for advisement of the politicians,” he said on the People’s National Congress Reform’s (PNCR) programme, ‘Nation Watch’.
Mr Vincent Alexander questioned whether the 2018 High Court decision by Chief Justice Roxane George-Wiltshire that residency was not a requirement to be registered and that the names of persons could not be removed from the national register of registrants meant that that also applied to the voters list. “That does not altogether answer the question that was posed: Does that ruling necessarily mean that you can’t take names off of the voters list because they are two different instruments,” he said.
He said it could be argued that the national register of registrants should contain the names of all Guyanese whether in Guyana or overseas, but suggested that the voters list should not have the names of everyone who is not necessarily available to vote.
Mr Alexander said a claims and objections system as well as any other system that might be developed should afford Guyanese who are off the voters list to be included.
Another option, he said, was to activate the use of the Regulations of the the National Registration Act that provide for the Chief Immigration Officer to periodically provide the Chief Immigration Officer with the names of persons who have been out of the country for a prolonged period. He said that regulation further empowers the Chief Registration Officer to determine how those are names are treated for the register and the voters list. Also, he said the regulation allows such persons to make a claim to be placed on the list.
The GECOM Commissioner restated that the recount of all the votes cast in the March 2020 general and regional elections and information provided by the Chief Immigration Officer shows that there was voter impersonation of a number of persons who was overseas on polling day, a claim that was last week vehemently rejected by Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance Gail Teixeira. Back then, a number of persons had come forward stating that they had been in Guyana and had voted.
According to Mr Alexander, a former Central Executive Committee member of the People’s National Congress Reform and a parliamentarian for that party, up to 2007 there had been unanimous agreement to conduct periodic registration to generate a new register of registrants and a new voters list. He said the only reason that there had been no fresh house-to-house registration in 2016 2017 was due to the fact that Parliament had not been allocated any monies until 2018.
When GECOM had taken steps to conduct house to house registration in 2018, the PPP had moved to the High Court which ruled in that case that residency was not a ground for removing the names of persons from the national register.
Though APNU+AFC is relying on information from the Immigration Department of the Guyana Police Force to claim that an estimated 200,000 persons had been overseas on Election Day- March 2, 2020- Opposition Leader Norton has said that it would be impossible to use the claims and objections system to challenge those names. “By the nature of Claims and Objections, it is very difficult to remove (even) 50,000 names much less 200,000 people by Claims and Objections. The process demands a hearing – people come, they make their case etc;” he said. He remarked that, like the People’s Progressive Party Civic when in opposition in 2015, APNU+AFC was now calling for house-to-house registration and the use of biometrics at polling stations.
LGE and Voters List
The GECOM Commissioner said in the case of LGE, the residency of electors which must be reflected in the voters list based on where they eat, sleep and other reasons. He said the voters list for the March 13, 2023 elections has not been extracted based on constituencies and electors informed that they could object to persons who are living elsewhere. He indicated that if the list had been generated in the proper manner, electors could have taken steps to transfer their registration to the constituencies where they now live.
Mr Alexander said he and his colleague opposition commissioners- Charles Corbin and Desmond Trotman- do not support the holding of LGE next March unless there is a review of the March 2020 general elections, the voters list is prepared to take account of constituencies and biometrics are used at polling stations.
While the Alliance For Change (AFC) on Sunday confirmed that it would be boycotting the LGE, APNU has not stated its position categorically.