It is generally accepted that Guyana endured a period of rigged elections between 1968 and 1985. The voters’ list was a critical element in the rigging throughout the entire period. The central counting of votes at one place in every region, which were completely sealed off by the military, facilitated the removal of the bottom from the wooden ballot boxes which were secured by nails. The boxes were then filled with a pre-determined number of fake ballots, although there was a limit to the number of such ballots that could be printed, marked with an X and inserted in the ballot boxes.
Thus, a multiplicity of schemes was devised. These included retaining on the voters’ list the names of persons who had died or migrated and padding the electoral list with fictitious names, impersonating and voting for persons who were legitimately on the list, securing proxies for employees from sympathetic or intimidated employers, postal votes and other devices. As these methods were exposed, different methods were rolled out at different elections. But a flawed electoral list was always a constant. That is why the elections due in 1990 was postponed for two years, by agreement with the then Opposition after an intense campaign, in order to conduct a new registration exercise for a new voters’ list.
As is well known, numerous reforms were implemented for the 1992 elections and many more were introduced subsequently, from the registration of voters to the declaration of election results, with involvement of the political parties at every stage. While no system is foolproof, the reforms as a whole made it difficult to rig the results of elections in any meaningful way, although the potential still exists. For example, a major political parties with dominant strength in a polling division, where the polling station is not monitored by a polling agent of the other political party, or the polling agent is violently expelled, the dominant party can cause votes for a modest number of those who have not voted by, say, 5 p.m., to be inserted in the ballot box. The Opposition believes that this form of rigging, combined with the exclusion of 20 Indian sounding names from each polling division, thereby depriving them of their vote, will be enough to ensure a return of the APNU+AFC by dishonest electoral practices., which will be difficult to expose.
While the legacy of suspicion has been deep-seated and it affects both the perpetrator and victim of electoral malpractice, concerns about potential rigging of elections, particularly in an imperceptible way, ought not to be dismissed. Adequate security precautions to protect all polling agents, especially Opposition polling agents, who have been the victims of forcible expulsions from polling stations, should be a top priority. This would prevent imposters (whether already lawfully in the polling stations or not) from voting for persons who did not show up to vote.
If the Elections Commission succeeds in its efforts to conduct a new registration exercise, a long enough claims and objections period will give the Opposition enough time to ensure that names are not excluded from the list and all those who ought to have been registered are in fact registered. It is not the people who are on the list that is important, whether dead or migrated, but it is the people who are entitled to be on the list but are not.
Where a list has a large number of persons who are dead or have migrated, the only way the elections can be manipulated is by persons voting for those dead and migrated persons. To have any chance of affecting the results of the elections this will have to be done on such a massive scale requiring such massive collaboration by election officials on voting day that it will become immediately noticeable. In any event, there is a pending court case challenging the legality of removing the names of migrated persons. The ground of the challenge is that Guyanese living overseas have the right to vote and are therefore entitled to be on the voters’ list.
The major parties view the issue of registration for a new voters’ list also on the basis of immediate political advantage, not merely whether it is necessary or not to eliminate the dead and migrated names, or manipulation of the list for fraudulent purposes. The PNC/APNU argues for a new registration because it facilitates delay. The PPP, which has historically demanded a clean list for elections, is happy to go along with a bloated list, because it will bring early elections.
Much depends on what happens at the CCJ and the results of the cases on the no confidence motion. If the CCJ finds that the no confidence motion was lawfully passed by the National Assembly, it would follow that the Government would have been unlawfully holding office since March 21. It will then have to determine what orders it should made in connection with the holding of elections, how this can be lawfully accomplished. Arguments as to the legality of the now expired list, or how to make it lawful, whether a new registration exercise should take place and if and how the Government can lawfully function may take place.