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Parliamentary Elections Office on the voter identification card

Oh how pompous and shameless are the senior administrators of the Parliamentary Elections Office (PEO), as they enthusiastically continue to perpetrate half-truths and deceit to the general public.

Conscientious and unbiased examinations of the utterances and actions or non-actions by those administrators, particularly as regards the voter identification card, indicate apparent conspiring and compromising against free and fair elections and against the flourishing and advancing of democracy in Grenada.

This should be revealing and of grave concern even with the reasonable declarations of the philosophy, mission and vision of the PEO on its website (http://www.peogrenada.org/); the grand rhetoric about “we are guided by the (‘elections’) law” as seasoned with scriptures by the Voter and Civic Registration Officer, about “the law gives the procedure …. this is the way the process works and this is what it is” as contended by the System Administrator, and about “we do understand the nature of the parliamentary elections process and we are committed to doing our best …. to ensure that we maintain the integrity of the process” as assured and boasted by the Supervisor of Elections; and moreover even with their intense denials, ridicules, condemnations and intimidations leveled at persons seeking to keep vigilance and decency on the electoral system and the constitutional sovereignty of the nation.

The previously internet-circulated two-part article, “Is Grenada’s Parliamentary Elections Office Conniving Or Forthright?”, gives a robust and pointed reaction to the appalling and unconscionable showing of the PEO on the 16th October 2020 “To The Point” programme of the Grenada Broadcasting Network (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bKjhB9gdwDs); both of the incidents (the article as well as the interview) should be reviewed for proper context.

This present writing is once again as a result of the annoyance and grief caused with the ‘hidden message’ propagated to the electorate and with the ‘devious intent’ signaled for the upcoming elections, by the Voter Registration and Civic Education officer of the PEO, Mr. Ferdinand Phillip, as the ‘subtle gamesmanship’ was relayed or exposed during the Thursday 21st January 2021 nightly newscast of Meaningful Television (MTV); https://www.facebook.com/102301971435091/videos/419720832672110.

The mantra and theme of the PEO is about “Who Can Vote”, and its administrative line of attack with statutory defence is about “…what qualifies you to vote is not having that current voter ID, but ensuring that your name is on the list.”

Calculating, convenient and calculated reliance is on section 10 “The right to remain registered” of the Representation of the People Act (RPA, Cap. 286A) and at the same time giving scant regard to the spirit and significance of section 24 “Voter identification card” of the Act.

Considering the non-disclosure or the silence on the magnitude and depth of the clear conditional factors attached to section 10, as well as considering the no emphasis, no directive or no encouragement being made for the electorate to carry their voter cards, even if the ‘expired’ ones, at elections, should speak volumes about the ‘sneaky strategy’ which can be employed for assisting in fixing or fraudulently facilitating particular outcomes of elections.

Also recall the previous internet article, “Grenada’s Voting Process Setting For More Controversies and Contempt”, citing the validity and/or the legality of the so-called expired voter card as taking the centre-stage in the political tussle for state power.

Gross irregularities can occur with the registering of citizens for obtaining their voter cards and ultimately for voting (RPA, section 6 “Entitlement to registration” and section 12 “Continuous registration”, in conjunction with section 9 “Request to be registered”); and equally so with the processing of the voters’ list and having ‘real and legitimate’ names remaining on the list (RPA, section 11 “Preparation of current list” and section 14 “Continuous revision and publication of current list”, in conjunction with section 15 “Content of list” and section 20 “Compiling of list”).

This unfortunate situation is ‘compounded and climaxed’ with the potential and openings for deliberate irregularities, by not having any serious procedure and obligation to use the voter card in voting.

It must not be missed from the statutory provisions in the RPA which were raised, that a unique voter registration number is required, assigned and published on every eligible person who has been duly registered; also referencing section 8 “Establishment of computerised voter registration system”.

How then that it is not considered ‘logical and judicious’ by the PEO to make all efforts at ensuring that the voter card is used at elections; yet a ‘valid’ voter card is forcefully required and readily accepted as one of the identifying certificates, to be able to conduct businesses, even though for example, an individual would offer his/her account number to a bank’s teller and the teller has all the pertinent information of the individual accessible?

Moreover, if financial institutions and professional entities could design and enforce all suitable measures to safeguard the integrity and security of their interests and that of their stakeholders, then why the PEO as an independent ‘noble’ government department, sees no merit and urgency to safeguard and enhance the electoral system?

What are some of the typical areas that it seems the PEO intends to exploit, by means of ensuring that an elector “not having” his/her voter card?

Firstly; the Supervisor of Elections (SoE) would not instruct the Presiding Officer about the statutory obligation to request of the person wishing a ballot paper to cast a vote, to produce his/her voter identification card (RPA, section 59 “Question to be put to voters and identification on card”).

Moreover, as a disguise to meet the full requirements under section 59, the SoE could set and prompt the Presiding Officer to be satisfied with whatever answers given by the elector when he/she is unable to produce the voter card. In fact, such elector may be smart to explain that the PEO/SoE did not advise to carry the card.

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Secondly, the SoE can delay the issuance/replacement/reissuance of voter cards, including on those which are “expired”, and/or SoE can put forward all sorts of reasons for an elector “has not been issued” with a current voter identification (ID) card.

Thirdly, the SoE would generate excuses for a bloated voter’s list, also having the names of persons who are dead remained on that list, even with objections by proofs of the persons’ death.

An excuse would be that the PEO is awaiting the official information from the Births, Deaths and Marriages registry; but with the PEO knowing fully that a person residing in the same or of a distant constituency can vote using the name of the dead, especially when the imposter voter and the dead voter go by the same names, and that necessary checking of the different registration numbers is immaterial and passed-over by the Presiding Officer.

Fourthly, there is no guarantee and certainty that the PEO would cease the registration of citizens for impending elections, so as to abide by the stipulation in the RPA under section 21 “No registration after Governor-General’s Writ”.

This is a very sorry thinking indeed; but especially since the reality is that whenever the holding of elections is announced, there is usually a great sensitisation and surge for ‘late registration’ of electors and with ‘influential’ administrative arrangement which may be made to accommodate ‘partisan persons’.

Being slack and/or being sly about the registration of electors and having electors remaining registered on the voters’ list even without being issued (or reissued) voter ID cards; and about the need to present such cards for voting and thereby blatantly dismissing the principle that “a person who is qualified and registered to vote, shall on polling day, present his voter identification card to the Presiding Officer (RPA, subsection 58.2); and with having the knowledge that existing processes for ‘fast addressing’ claims on irregularities are irrational, tedious and unfeasible (RPA, section 98 “Petitions regarding disputed elections”, section 101 “Presentation of election petition and security for costs”, and pertinent regulations under the First Schedule “Registration of Electors Rules”) provide the loopholes and defects for ‘unscrupulous and unqualified’ voters, especially on voter padding.

The results of the 13 March 2018 elections drew wide political and scholastic attention, including public debates on the repute of the PEO; also recall the previous article “Could Grenada’s 2018 Voting Be Declared Unethical and Illegal?

In fact, after the elections, there was acknowledgement by the PEO that a number of persons whose names are on the voters’ list were allowed to vote in a constituency or polling station contrary to where they were to be properly registered and voted.

Moreover; Caricom’s findings on the elections observed that, “… the information made available to the electorate from the election authority … was that one can vote without the card ….there seems to have been a greater focus on the fact that electors could vote without the card leading to the creation of an impression that the card was not a necessary requirement to identify the voter before issuing the ballot.

“…. As a preliminary recommendation to strengthen the process, the CEOM would like to propose that attention be paid to this area of the law to strengthen its application …. “ (CARICOM observer mission releases preliminary statement …today.caricom.org › CARICOM).

It is mystifying however, how Caricom stays ‘non-persuasive and still and not proactive’, without evoking serious actions to avert or pre-empt ugly developments on the verge and the aftermath of elections, but then after the fact, it comes gasping to quell quarrels and establish accords.

For example, Caricom’s chairperson, Prime Minister Ms. Mia Mottley of Barbados expressed “Caricom’s commitment to ensure the electoral process (‘about Guyana’) comes to a credible end”, but where is the open evidence of efforts to ensure also a credible start of such processes.

Moreover, how ‘credible and genuine’ should Caricom’s intentions and interventions be taken to resolve political issues when having pertinent Team members including Prime Ministers Roosevelt Skerrit of Dominica and Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell of Grenada whose ‘transparent’ electoral processes have been in question and where ‘genuine’ electoral reforms have been shelved?

It is frightening to realise how the PEO ignores open concerns, questions and challenges on its attitude and operations; and particularly how it shirks taking a serious stance for administrative and legal adjustments with the aim of assisting to engender ‘sanity and satisfaction’ at upcoming elections.

To have the PEO taking ‘confidence and comfort and correctness’ with hush-hush extensive amendments of the electoral law (RPA, Cap. 286A) and other associated legal provisions, also points to its poor public relation front and institutional goodwill, the law being made complex.

The on-going investigations including court-cases from the 2 March 2020 taxing elections in Guyana are striking and should be instructive, as top elections officials are accused of fraud, misconduct in office and breach of the public’s trust.

The PEO/SoE, and in particular Mr. Phillip who supposedly is responsible for ‘in-house education and public information’, must show unreservedly that “to produce” the voter card and to ensure the “name appears” on the voters’ list are ‘uncoupled needs’ to vote, in terms of section 59 of the election law; and who are the culprits!

J.K. Roberts