Opposition Commissioners say Recount can be done in 10 days
By Kemol King, Apr 10, 2020 , Source - Kaieteur News Online - https://www.kaieteurnewsonline...-recount-to-10-days/
A recount of all the votes cast in the 2020 General and Regional Elections could reasonably take about 10 days, with the right arrangements. This is the view of the Commissioners nominated by the Leader of the Opposition.
Opposition-nominated Commissioner Sase Gunraj presented a revised plan to the Commission yesterday
Their plan was presented yesterday at the Commission’s High Street, Kingston office.
Commissioner Robeson Benn had been quite incensed, the day before, by a plan proposed by Chief Elections Officer (CEO), Keith Lowenfield, for which the arrangements saw such a recount lasting 156 days.
But according to explanations given by both Commissioners Gunraj and Vincent Alexander yesterday, the arrangements which led to the production of Lowenfield’s initial plan were limited by instructions of the Commission, especially as it relates to the number of workstations being used. Alexander said that it is instructive to note that when the CEO proposed 156 days, he arrived at that duration on two main premises.
These are the time it would take to count one ballot box and the number of Commissioners to be present at each workstation.
It appears that it was Lowenfield’s understanding, after seeking clarity from the Commission, that it would take an average of two hours to count one box. Secondly, the Commissioner who criticized Lowenfield’s initial plan as impractical and unhelpful is the very Commissioner who had indicated that there should be two Commissioners at each workstation, according to information provided by Alexander. Hence, while public outcry expressed the need to have more workstations, it was only logical for Lowenfield’s secretariat to conclude, at the time, that there would be only three workstations, as there are six Commissioners.
“It is rather unfortunate that [when] the CEO follows on from what we have said to him… he is lambasted by Commissioners in the public,” Alexander said.
“It is very unfortunate that that is the manner of conduct of GECOM.”
Gunraj explained, now that that has been cleared up, that the removal of such a restriction means the number of workstations can easily be expanded.
Gunraj made a proposal for the number of workstations to be increased from three to 20. While a significant increase to the number of workstations would logically reduce the duration of the recount, the Commission has to take into consideration the implications of COVID-19 and the necessary safety measures.
Gunraj said that the understanding is that a single workstation would have about 15 persons. This appears to be a cursory assumption, given that the number of observers to be present at the recount still has to be sorted, after talks are had between the missions and GECOM. GECOM has agreed on the presence of the persons entitled to witness the process, as mandated by the Representation of the People Act, including observers and party agents. Alexander said it was agreed that one party representative would be facilitated for each workstation.
Considering Gunraj’s proposal of 15 persons per workstation, with 20 workstations, that plan would place 300 persons in a single compound.
Gunraj, who said he has considered the size of the Arthur Chung Conference Centre – inside and outside, is comfortable that the venue can accommodate so many persons, even with the necessary COVID-19 safety precautions.
He said that GECOM is being as responsible as possible in its discussions, where the COVID-19 outbreak is concerned. Government – who, according to former Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, should be approached to facilitate the recount – should have no issue simply looking over GECOM’s notification that it intends to carry out a recount, and grant a “no objection”, Gunraj said.
Gunraj has also proposed – and has said that there is some consensus on this – that there should be some amount of parallelism in the completion of the process. With such an arrangement, the number of workstations counting would be split into two teams, where one team begins in numerical order from district one, while the other team works on the largest and more contentious district four.
Further, Gunraj proposed a marginal increase from Lowenfield’s initial in the number of hours working, from 10 to 12.
With all of this in consideration, it is pertinent to note that no decision has yet been made on the number of workstations, and that such a decision is subject to an examination of the venue and a grant of the permission to use it, the Commissioners explained yesterday.
This all means that a duration for the recount is not yet conclusive either, as such a determination is dependent on an examination of the afforementioned and a few factors, such as the time taken to examine one ballot box, which Gunraj has suggested would take an average period of one hour, instead of two. Alexander said that the determination of how long this would take is an average, as some boxes contain more ballots than others.
He noted too that the time taken to count the ballots is not just a numerical count, but an examination of the veracity of all of the boxes’ contents.
All of this considered, Gunraj posited that more than a thousand of the boxes have less than 200 ballots cast, and that 200 of the boxes have less than 50 ballots.
“As a consequence,” he said, “time to count cannot be as burdensome, all things considered.”
On the role of CARICOM, GECOM has agreed in principle that CARICOM should come back and play an elevated role, relative to the other observers. However, Gunraj said that GECOM has to treat very carefully with any elevated role for an observer, given the Appeal Court’s recent order that GECOM cannot delegate its constitutionally mandated supervisory authority to another institution.
Alexander said that people will raise questions about the role of CARICOM, but that it is important to have CARICOM participating in the process as a validating third party. Asked why this is so necessary, the Commissioner pointed to the statements critical of GECOM, which had indicated that there would be little acceptance of the validity of the count if there isn’t such a third party to vouch for the credibility of the process.
Alexander said that GECOM is being responsive to those concerns.
Another consideration in play is the group of declarations currently in the possession of GECOM. While GECOM had recently decided that it would not consider Lowenfield’s report on those, they are yet to be conclusively set aside.
Gunraj said he is hoping to have them scrapped after the Commission’s next meeting.
Alexander on the other hand, said that once the recount causes GECOM to arrive at a final declaration, the initial declarations would become irrelevant. But he did say that a part of the process for the recount includes having to gazette an order indicating the recount exercise that GECOM has to embark on, and that it is his view that the crafting of that order would implicitly nullify the previous declarations. He said that the order is expected to be made once the Commission’s discussions on the recount have concluded.
GECOM is also evidently out of consensus on the role of the Commissioners during the exercise. Alexander explained that there is one Commissioner who insists that the Commissioners should insert themselves into the execution of the process. However, he said that other Commissioners disagree and are of the collective view that the Commissioners, as crafters of the process and the final arbiters on it, should not actively insert themselves into its execution.
Commissioner Charles Corbin had once told reporters that the Commission is not a body that is heavily involved in the operations of the secretariat, that it is a policymaking body, while the secretariat deals with operational matters.
Otherwise, the Commission has agreed on the reporting mechanism and its accompanying methodology, which must now be refined to a final document for consideration by the Commission, which would reflect the discussions had yesterday.
Alexander said that GECOM’s legal officer is now expected to present notes to Lowenfield so that he can finalise another draft plan. The GECOM Secretariat must consider all of yesterday’s discussions and revise its plan for presentation to the Commission again.
GECOM will meet again when that plan is completed.