The Election and Boundaries Commission (EBC) will spend $23 million in preparation for the May 24 general election. This will be $5 million more than what the EBC spent for the 2007 general election. The disclosure was made by deputy chief elections officer Versil Charles-Wright on Friday.�Speaking at the EBC's head office in Port-of-Spain, Charles-Wright said the largest slice of the money would go towards training of 12,000 election officers, hiring of 41 returning officers, purchasing of 50 kegs of electoral ink and for advertisements. Training of the election officers will be undertaken for four days starting from Friday, while the Writ of Election will be handed to its 41 returning officers by President George Maxwell Richards very soon. The most challenging task for the EBC, Charles-Wright said, would be training of its election officers. "You have to ensure that the people you put on board to conduct this election must have integrity, honesty and fairness."
If the officers do not have these qualities Charles-Wright said "that will be a recipe for disaster." She also warned that anyone caught favouring any of the political parties will be dismissed.�"This is the seat of democracy here and we cannot play with that." Charles-Wright admitted the EBC was taken by surprise when Prime Minister Patrick Manning at the PNM's special convention in Chaguaramas on March 27 warned that a general election was imminent. "We were readying ourselves for a local government election," she said. "We were not looking for it now, anyway. We were awaiting for the draft constitution to be finalised for the local government election. We were about to embark on a verification field exercise. So now we have to ready ourselves for a general election."
Staff working extra hours
All EBC staffers have been asked to work additional hours. Charles-Wright explained there were things the EBC could not do before the date was called. From tomorrow, 35 days before 1,037,000 registered voters go to the 2,046 polling stations across T&T, Charles-Wright assured that "the EBC would have everything in place."�In the 2007 general election approximately 990,467 people were eligible to vote. Of that figure only 655,828 exercised their franchise. With the highest list of registered voters in the history of T&T, Charles-Wright said the EBC was expecting the largest voter turnout at the polls. From as early as 7am people start swarming the EBC's headquarters to ensure that their names get on the voters' list. "I want to feel that apart from the change of address campaign this election will be big." For the past two weeks the EBC has been urging citizens to regularise their registration status. Citizens who have reported a change of address to the EBC, Charles-Wright said, would be checked out to ensure that the information supplied was correct.
"There is a process that we follow. Once this is done everything will be smooth sailing." Charles-Wright said for every general election the issue of vote padding in marginal seats resurfaced by Opposition parties. "That is the fear out there. All this could be avoided if people inform us of their new address. So we put you where you are supposed to vote to avoid any talk." One of the restrictions that the EBC imposed in the 2007 general election was the banning of cellphones at polling stations, after reports surfaced that people who owned camera cellphones would take photographs inside the voting booth before casting their ballots to show which party they had voted for. Charles-Wright said this was one matter the EBC would have to discuss with acting CoP James Philbert to ensure that voters conform to the rules.