The President and Leader of the Opposition agreed on a recount. In their Aide Memoire, the word “recount” appears four times while the word “audit” does not appear. “Recount” was never defined, but the Aide Memoire stated that it would take place in accordance with “the applicable law,” as well as the Constitution and court decisions. It could only have meant the Representation of the Peoples Act (the Act) which is the only existing, applicable, law for a recount. There is nothing to suggest that when the leaders signed the Aide Memoire that they meant anything other than the recount process provided for by the Act.
Section 89 of the Act, provides for the recount of votes. The Returning Officer (RO) is required to: open each ballot box; take out the ballot papers; count and record the number of ballot papers taken from each ballot box; count the votes recorded for each list of candidates. The RO shall reject as invalid and not count any ballot paper: which does not bear the official mark; which has not been marked for any list of candidates or is void for uncertainty; on which votes have been given for more than one list of candidates; on which there is any writing or mark by which the elector can be identified. A ballot paper on which the vote is marked shall not be rejected solely because it is marked: elsewhere than in the proper place; otherwise than by means of a cross; by more than one mark: if the intention that the vote shall be for one or the other list of candidates clearly appears, or, the elector is neither identified nor can be identified by the manner in which the ballot is marked. The RO marks “rejected” on a ballot paper which he deems to be invalid and “rejection objected to” if his ruling is objected to.
This is the full recount procedure in its entirety and what must have been contemplated by the Aide Memoire. But GECOM decided of its own volition that a recount is not what it wanted. It unilaterally determined that it wanted an audit of the entire voting process, disregarding the clear intention of the signatories to the Aide Memoire.
The evidence on the ground suggested that the disputes surrounded recounts. There were five requests for recounts for Districts 2, 3, 5, and 6 by APNU+AFC and for District 4 by many parties. Recounts were granted for Districts 5 and 6. Recounts of Districts 2, 3 and 4 were refused. Therefore, at the time when GECOM began to contemplate the Order that it would make, there was no contention in relation to seven Districts. The disputes were in relation to only three, namely, 2, 3 and 4.
None of the Districts needed an audit, as was recognized and determined by President Granger and Mr. Bharat Jagdeo. But even giving GECOM the benefit of the doubt, would not recounts, as opposed to audits, for the seven Districts not in contention, have been sufficient?
In deliberately ignoring or misinterpreting the Aide Memoire, GECOM cast aside section 89 of the Act, set out above, providing for recount and relied on section 22 of the Election Laws Amendment Act to impose an audit on the elections by an Order. Section 22 provides the pre-requisite for making any Order by GECOM “if any difficulty arises in connection with the application of….the Representation of the People Act.” If so “the Commission shall, by order, make any provision….that appears to the Commission to be necessary or expedient for removing the difficulty.”
Thus, the Order promulgated by GECOM states: “And whereas the Guyana Elections Commission, in the exercise of the authority vested in it under Article 162 of the Constitution and pursuant to section 22 of the Election Laws (Amendment) Act, No. 15 of 2000, seeks to remove difficulties connected with the application of the Representation of the Peoples Act, Chapter 1:03, in implementing its decisions relating to the conduct of the aforementioned recount of all ballots cast at the said elections, including the reconciliation of the ballots issued with the ballots cast, destroyed, spoiled, stamped, and as deemed necessary, their counterfoils/stubs; authenticity of the ballots and the number of voters listed and crossed out as having voted; the number of votes cast without ID cards; the number of proxies issued and the number utilized; statistical anomalies, occurrences recorded in the Poll Book.”
Since section 89 of the Act creates no difficulty in effecting a recount, it was completely disingenuous for GECOM to state in the Order that relying on section 22 was necessary “to remove difficulties.” GECOM did not want to or need to remove difficulties. It intended, successfully so, to defy the Aide Memoire, and impose its own, malign, interpretation by imposing a large-scale audit.
The effect of GECOM’S decision is now seen. The number of pointless and trivial queries being made are taking far longer than the actual recount. This orchestrated conduct, designed to frustrate, will take this process far into the distant future, unless at least twice the number of work stations are established with urgency by GECOM, which created and facilitated the problem in the first place.