THE SECURITY OF THE BALLOT BOXES


The history of tampering with ballot boxes commenced in 1968 and ended in 1985. At the 1992 elections, wooden ballot boxes made in Guyana, with the bottom and sides nailed together, ceased being used for elections and ballot boxes manufactured in Canada were acquired for use in elections. These latter ballot boxes were made of plastic and formed a single, whole unit. Sections were not cobbled together by nails or clamps. The era of ballot box tampering came to an end. No allegations were made since 1992 that the ballot boxes were tampered with simply because they were tamper proof.

At the opening of poll the presiding officer opens the ballot box in the presence of the candidate, polling agents and other persons lawfully present, ensures that it contains no ballot papers, locks the ballot box, and seals it so that it cannot be opened without breaking the seal and retains the key. At the close of poll in a polling station, various records are made, the ballot box is opened, ballots supporting each list separated and counted. A statement of poll is made up of the results to be distributed to the returning officer, the assistant presiding officer, the candidate and polling agents present and the chief election officer.

One statement of poll is placed in a conspicuous place outside the polling place as conclusive evidence of the result of the election for that polling place. The remaining election material are sealed in envelopes and the box is sealed, all with the seals of the presiding officer and of any candidates and polling agents as wish to do so. The presiding officer delivers the sealed box, a sealed statement of poll and the key to the box, to the returning officer for the district. The candidate or polling agents may accompany the ballot box in the vehicle or, if there is no space in the vehicle, may follow the vehicle with the box in a separate conveyance. All of these reforms were insisted upon by the combined opposition in the early 1990s, before the 1992 elections.

After receiving the ballot boxes and material, the returning officer, in the presence of the candidate, counting agent and others entitled to be present, add the total votes cast for each list of candidates and make a public declaration of the results. Before 12 noon on the day after the declaration of the results by the returning officer, a counting agent may request a final count. That request may be for a general final count, that is, for all the ballots of the district, or a limited final count, that is, some ballot boxes of the district. Only in this case, and no other, are the ballot boxes reopened and the ballots recounted. The returning officer then delivers a report to the chief election officer of the final count.

On election day in 2015, an incident occurred in Sophia where it was alleged that ballot boxes were being stored in a house which was the command centre of the PPP in the area. Senior APNU+AFC officials, including Mr. Raphael Trotman, assured the agitated crown, which had been bussed in, that they had examined the house and there were no ballot boxes in it. Despite these assurances, the crowd, by then manipulated into a frenzy, set alight many motor cars, houses and perpetrated violence on many individuals. It was a miracle that no one lost his or her life.

It is not known if it is the above false allegations that has triggered the recent call for following and securing the ballot boxes. If not, any attempt by anyone to influence the election results by unlawful means cannot be accomplished by interfering with the ballot boxes. Such an attempt will be quickly exposed by the seals on the ballot box being broken. Nevertheless, if it is the desire of any political party contesting the elections to do so, its polling agent may accompany or follow the ballot boxes.

These party officials will have a long wait. Even in region 4, the nearest region to the elections commission and the most easily accessible, the returning officer takes two or three days to complete his or her report and make the declaration. If there is a request for a recount, it may take several more days. The comrades on ‘nightshift’ would be well advised to prepare for a potential week of guarding the ballot boxes, and longer in the hinterland regions.

There has been no evidence of the rigging of elections in Guyana since 1985, despite the allegations after every election by the losers. If malpractice has occurred it has not been significant enough to have affected the outcome. It is understandable, having regard to our history, and the closeness of the results of the 2011 and 2015 elections, that many are nervous. But sensational outbursts heighten the level of anxiety and create an unwarranted atmosphere of tension.

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