The Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) has dismissed alleged irregularities in the special voting process raised by the United National Congress (UNC).
In a press release issued yesterday evening, the EBC stated that its Chief Election Officer Fern Narcis-Scope responded to a request for an investigation made by Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar hours earlier.
Speaking at a press conference at the Opposition Leader’s Office in Port-of-Spain, yesterday morning, Opposition Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial noted that she first raised concerns while representing the party at Queen’s Hall, on Friday.
Lutchmedial claimed that when she and other observers from the four of the other political parties contesting today’s Local Government elections were allowed to view the opening of ballot boxes that emanated from special voting centres across T&T, she noticed that two from San Fernando appeared to be already opened.
She noted that she took photographs of the boxes and did not raise a concern as the other boxes were opened and ballots were sorted into the 141 districts being contested in the election.
She claimed that when she eventually pointed out that the boxes were open outside of the observers’ presence, EBC staff maintained that such did not occur until she produced the photographs she had taken earlier.
She alleged that when she continued to raise concerns, EBC officials present could not give a proper explanation.
Lutchmedial also raised concerns over how ballots from the Sangre Grande Police Station were packaged as the names of voters were revealed when sorting.
Narcis-Scope sought to address the specific concerns initially raised orally by Lutchmedial and reiterated by Persad-Bissessar at the EBC’s request.
The EBC’s release stated that Narcis-Scope explained to Persad-Bissessar that the Election Rules under the Representation of the People Act do not provide for the sealing of ballot boxes at special polling stations.
“Narcis-Scope advised that it had become the practice for Special Presiding Officers to use ballot boxes to transport the sealed envelopes but there is no requirement in law, to either use ballot boxes or to seal them,” the release said.
“The broken seals were, in fact, part of a previous process utilised at the Special Polling Station and was in no way part of the process being witnessed at Queen’s Hall,” it added.
It also stated that Narcis-Scope’s investigation also revealed that all the special envelopes were sealed by the Special Presiding Officer and for matters of safety and security in the transportation, all boxes were locked.
It noted that the special envelopes were found to be sealed and intact.
“Narcis-Scope noted that the fact that two ballot boxes were not sealed does not impact the outcome of the election in any given electoral district as suggested by the Opposition Leader,” it said.
The EBC said that Narcis-Scope also addressed the issue raised with the Sangre Grande ballots packaging.
It said that Narcis-Scope’s investigations revealed that the 11 covering envelopes with the declaration of identity of the special electors as required by Election Rule 71 were placed in the ballot box at that location, which was then locked and sealed.
“A proper record was kept of the districts that the ballots were cast for via a Statement of the Contents of the Special Ballot Box in accordance with Election Rule 84 (2) and was duly signed by the Special Presiding Officer. This Statement was also shown to witnesses present at the sorting exercise,” it said.
“In closing, the Chief Election Officer noted that it was regrettable that notwithstanding the training provided there was a deviation from the approved procedure, this deviation however, did not compromise the integrity of the process as all staff of the Commission designated to participate in special poll proceedings are required to take declarations of secrecy and further, the identity of persons who have cast their ballots is an essential component of the electoral process,” it added.
Dealing with the issues at the earlier press conference, Lutchmedial said she and her party were especially concerned by the irregularity based on the fact that the ballot boxes in question contained the most ballots of the 15 boxes used for special voters.
She also noted that a large number of ballots were from voters in hotly contested districts with small margins of victory in the last poll in 2019.
Lutchmedial claimed that the UNC was concerned with public trust and confidence in the electoral process.
“We raise it not because we want to be antagonistic towards the EBC or anything like that but you have the responsibility to ensure elections are free and fair, free from fear and the people feel confident in the manner in which an election is carried out,” Lutchmedial said.
In addition to an investigation, Lutchmedial also called on the EBC to disclose the names of the presiding officers who were responsible for sealing the ballot boxes that were purportedly found to be open.
“We will consider all our legal options based on the response we get...If this matter is to go to court, we need names,” Lutchmedial said.