MEMBERS of the Media, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon
The CARICOM Election Observation Mission was organized at the invitation of the Government of Guyana, to observe the General and Regional Elections of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, held on March 2, 2020.
The seventeen (17) member Observation Mission, comprised nationals of Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Dominica, Haiti, Jamaica, St Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia, Suriname and Trinidad & Tobago.
The Mission was led by Ms. Cynthia Combie Martyr, Chairperson of the Saint Lucia Electoral Commission.
The Mission comprised persons of extensive experience and technical expertise, including Commissioners and Executive Officers and Officers of various CARICOM Electoral Management Bodies and Electoral Departments, Directors and Supervisors of Elections and Chief Elections Officers.
The CARICOM election observation mission is supported by the CARICOM Secretariat.
The CARICOM Election Observers did not have the opportunity to witness the ADVANCE POLL of the Discipline Services which was held on February 21, 2020.
However, a preliminary assessment of the pre–election environment of the country was attained following my arrival in Guyana on February 24, 2020.
This evaluation was formulated from various meetings and discussions held with several key stakeholders, including Electoral and Government authorities, representatives of Political Parties, Trade Unions, Civil Society and Religious Groups and other Election Observation Missions.
On Polling day, the CARICOM Election Observers were deployed to Polling Stations in Regions 3, 4, 5, 6 and 10.
We visited approximately 360 Polling Stations across this country and we feel satisfied to report the following preliminary observations:
1. Conduct of the Poll
CARICOM Election Observers who witnessed the election process and the conduct of the poll, from opening to closing through to the subsequent counting of the ballots, formed a preliminary assessment of the poll and were impressed by the efficiency, competence and professionalism of the Poll Officials in carrying out their duties.
This is a demonstration of the level and standard of the training provided by GECOM.
Throughout the day, polling progressed smoothly in a peaceful environment and in an orderly manner. There was generally excellent knowledge of the process by the Polling Officials and compliance with and adherence to the rules and regulations.
There were however minor issues which we identified, which were mostly resolved, and which in the Mission’s opinion, were not significant to materially affect the overall outcome of the poll.
Polling was executed smoothly with acceptable delays relating to persons to whom oaths and declarations had to be administered by the Presiding Officers.
Generally, a pleasant atmosphere of peace and calm amongst electors, with no sign of hostility amongst electors.
The Observers did not observe any incidents of violence.
2. Physical accommodation in Polling Stations/Polling Places
As it relates to Polling Stations, stations were located in private homes, schools and other public buildings and those met the GECOM standards in terms of general layout.
However, CARICOM Observers were concerned about the following:
(1) Access ramps and other support structures to the Polling Stations/Polling Places for ‘’differently-abled’’ members of Guyanese society were not always available.
(2) School-located polling stations that had ground floor access were not utilized and instead were located on the upper floors, thereby creating undue serious difficulty for “differently-abled’’ electors.
• That notwithstanding, CARICOM Observers were impressed by the special consideration and additional assistance given to “differently-abled’’ electors by Presiding Officers, other GECOM staff and E-Day volunteers. These acts were certainly commendable.
(3) Signage on Polling Stations and directions to Electors, was not large enough and placement was such that the signs were not always easily visible. It was felt that this may have contributed to electors walking into the wrong stations and having to spend precious voting time relocating.
With larger, clearer defined signage, this challenge could have been averted.
(4) Space within stations was not always appropriately utilized, but for the most part, Polling Stations were thought to have been reasonably well organized to accommodate electors.
• We noted however that even in those stations where we felt that the physical accommodation did not meet the desired standards, the level of professionalism displayed by Polling staff was beyond question.
• These deficiencies we believe must be addressed by GECOM to ensure that the standard requirements for Polling Stations are achieved and maintained.
3. Conduct of Presiding Officers and Other Polling Day Officials
(1) CARICOM Observers found the Polling Day officials at polling stations to be pleasant, efficient, experienced and generally professional.
(2) We noted some minor instances in which Presiding Officers were a bit agitated in dealing with Polling Agents, but it was felt that these instances were not significant enough to hinder the administration or quality of the poll.
(3) We noted that Poll Officials could have done more to scrutinize the fingers/hands of voters for any visible signs of previous voting. But having said that, the process of voter identification was appropriate to avert the possibility of double voting or voter fraud of that kind.
(4) We consider that due recognition be given to the Security Staff at those Polling Stations who clearly understood their roll of protection and maintenance of calm, in order to ensure safety at Polling Stations on Polling Day. They were also pleasant and welcoming as they acknowledged electors entry into the Polling Places and Polling Stations.
(5) CARICOM Observers noted several instances of fast-tracking of mothers with young babies and differently abled persons by the Security officers, in the interest of creating an environment that was truly conducive to the success of the poll.
4. Conduct of Voters
As it relates to the Conduct of Voters, the conduct of voters was remarkable, responsible, calm and orderly. The people of Guyana should be proud of themselves and this Mission salutes GECOM and the citizens of the country for the peaceful conduct of the Poll.
5. Some other Concerns of the CARICOM Observers:
The CARICOM Observers were largely concerned about the following issues:
(1) Status of Polling Day Officials/workers
CARICOM Observers noted that Poll Workers were allowed to leave their respective stations to go and vote, and there were times when poll workers were noticeably absent which could effectively and in some instances, slow down the Polling Process.
In this regard, it is one of the recommendations of the CARICOM Observers, that provision must be made to include Poll Workers in the ADVANCE POLL.
(2) Matters relating to the Inter- Mixing of the Ballots of the Disciplined Services
During a count at one of the Polling Stations in Georgetown, an issue arose relating to the incorrect folding of the ballots cast by the Disciplined Services in the ADVANCE POLL and subsequent stamping of the ballot by the Presiding Officer at that Polling Station on Polling Day, during the Inter-Mixing of the two (2) sets of Ballots.
The effect was that the verification stamp was not properly applied and resulted in the ballots appearing to be: (i) double stamped or (ii) not stamped in the correct location on the ballot or (iii) not stamped at all.
This resulted in what the Observers considered to be a “valid vote” from the standpoint of those electors, being declared by the Presiding Officer at the count on election night, as being deemed a spoilt/rejected/invalid ballot, which would not be included in the count.
That declaration was opposed by Party Agents present at the count. The Presiding Officer, however, did advise on the option for Party Agents to lodge “queries” in respect to those ballots and to do so within 24 hours of polling day.
Whilst the number of those ballots in the particular Polling Station was relatively small, CARICOM Observers are concerned that an elector who having exercised his/her franchise by casting his/her vote, would, through no fault of that elector, be deprived of a count of a vote for the party of his/her choice.
This CARICOM Election Observer Mission is committed to ensuring the preservation of the democratic process and to make certain that every valid vote cast must be counted, in order to be regarded as a vote for the party of the elector’s choice.
The Mission recommends that these matters must be addressed by GECOM, in terms of the education and training of Polling Officials as regards inter-mixing of the ballots.
CYNTHIA COMBIE MARTYR
CHIEF OF MISSION
March 4, 2020