Free election comes under the microscope

Supervisor of Elections, Alex Phillip has come under scrutiny from the Civil Society Grouping in Grenada.

The group, headed by Judy Williams met with Phillip to discuss a number of concerns especially allegations of voter-padding on the sister isle of Carriacou & Petite Martinique with Vincentian nationals.

Speculation is rife that Justices of the Peace are signing declarations to certify Vincentians to vote in the March 13 general election.

After the meeting, Civil Society issued a statement in which it said that in respect of non-nationals who are presenting the declarations of J.P.’s, the Office of the Supervisor of Elections has a responsibility to contact the Immigration Office to verify information and to determine the legality of residence.

“Persons who are on the island illegally do not qualify to be registered”, said the statement.

Congress candidate Tevin Andrew has identified by name one Justice of the Peace who has been certifying a number of questionable persons from the Grenadines as registered to vote in the election.

Andrew is coming up against female attorney-at-law, Kindra Maturine-Stewart in what is turning out to be a much-anticipated and keen battle for supremacy in the sister isle.

As a public service, THE NEW TODAY reproduces in full the statement issued by Civil Society following the meeting with the Supervisor of Elections:

On Monday, January 29, 2018, a delegation of the Grouping of Civil Society Organisations met with officials of the Parliamentary Elections Office, Tanteen, St. George’s to: –

*Issues/Concerns of CSOs: Raise a number of issues/concerns with respect to the electoral process and to seek information/clarification from the Supervisor on the action(s) that were being taken to address them.

*Information/Clarification re Amendments to RPA: To obtain information on the amendments that were made to the Representation of the People’s Act.

In attendance were: –

*Parliamentary Elections Office: Mr. Alex Phillip, Supervisor of Elections; Mr. Michael Millette, Systems Administrator

*CSO Delegation: Ms. Judy Williams; Ms. Gloria Payne-Banfield; Ms. Sandra Ferguson; Messrs. Davidson Nedd, Milton Coy and J.K. Roberts

Background/Context:

Ms. Williams noted that this meeting with the Parliamentary Elections Office was being held in the context of:

• National Interests: The activities of the Civil Society Grouping were focused on overall national development and on what was in the best interest of the country.

• Citizens and Democracy: The process of democracy, which values and respects all citizens, is important for the nation. Therefore, it was important for all citizens to understand and “stay in tune” with the process.

• Confidence in the Electoral Process: “Perception was reality”. Therefore, it was important for the Office of the Supervisor of Elections and the Civil Society Organisations to work together to assure citizens that they could have confidence in the institution of the Parliamentary Elections Office and the Electoral Process.

• Informing the Public: The outcomes of the meeting between the Office and the CSO Delegation would be shared with the public.

2. CSOs Issues/concerns:

The following were the issues /concerns brought to The attention of the Supervisor of Elections: ­

• Availability and Accessibility of the Voters’ List

*The registration process; of particular concern was the registration process in the constituency of Carriacou and Petite Martinique where it was understood the registration of a number of non-­ nationals were being facilitated by Justices of the Peace.

*Amendments to the Representation of the People’s Act

*Voting without a Voters’ ID by Persons Having the Same Name

*Removal of Registration Officers by the Governor-General in January 2017

Availability and Accessibility of the Voters’ List:

Concern was raised about the availability and accessibility of the Voters ‘ List to all electors.

Ms. Gloria Payne-Banfield shared her own experience of not being able to access the Voters’ List for her polling division, LO1, since it was not displayed at any of the usual places. She had therefore resorted to visiting the registration office to check her name on the Master List. However, at that time the List was not displayed on the outside for easy viewing by interested persons.

While acknowledging the concerns of Ms. Payne-Banfield about the specific polling division, the Supervisor noted that his office was obliged to prepare four lists over the period of a year – two Consolidated Lists, at June 30th and December 31st, and two Addendum Lists, at March 31″ and – September 30th, all of which were readily available for viewing by the public. The public could also check their names via the office’s website.

He clarified that the List reflected the information which the voter used to register.

The Supervisor clarified the following:-

*Hours of Registration Office: The hours of registration offices are between 9.00 a.m. and 5.00 p.m.

*Cessation of Registration: Once the writ was issued by the Governor-General, registration would cease. It was expected that the writ would be issued on Tuesday, January 30th. Therefore Monday, January 29th would be the last day for registration.

*Purging the List: While new names could not be added to the list after the cessation of registration, names could be purged out of the list with the proper evidence.

Registration Process:

Registration of Non-nationals:

This issue was of particular concern to the Civil Society delegation which noted that it had received reports concerning the registration of non-nationals, particularly from the Constituency of Carriacou & Petite Martinique.

Registration of Commonwealth Citizens:

The officials of the Parliamentary Elections Office clarified as follows:-

• Registration of Commonwealth Citizens:

Commonwealth citizens living in Grenada for at least 12 months were permitted to register and vote.

Verification of Date of Residence: Verification of the date of residence is required. This is facilitated by presenting a valid passport which should contain an entry stamp.

*Declaration by Justice of Peace or Notary Public: A Justice of Peace or Notary Public could do a declaration re verification of residence.

Registration of Non-nationals in the Constituency of Carriacou and Petite Martinique:

• Commonwealth Citizens: Nationals of the Vincentian Grenadines were Commonwealth Citizens and were therefore eligible to be registered if they met the requirements for registration.

The officials of the Parliamentary Elections Office confirmed that a number of non-nationals from the neighbouring Vincentian Grenadines were presenting themselves to be registered.

• Declarations by J.P.: Many of these persons were utilizing declarations by Justices of the Peace to verify their residence. The Supervisor noted that the law did not state what should be included in the declaration by the J.P.’s. However, the registration process required the following information – name; date of birth; length of stay in Grenada. The J.P.’s declaration was generally accompanied by the birth certificate.

• Authority of the J.P.: The Supervisor was of the opinion that the authority of the J.P. could not be challenged, given that the J.P. had the authority to make a declaration, even if, in the opinion of the Office of the Supervisor, the declaration was questionable. Therefore, in his opinion, his Office had no other option than to register the individual for whom the declaration is made.

• Stamp of the J.P.: The J.P. has a personal stamp and the registration officer relied on the authority of the stamp of the Justice of the Peace.

Objections to Registration:

The Supervisor further clarified that an elector living in a specific constituency could file an objection to the registration of a person(s) whom the elector believed to have been inappropriately registered in that particular constituency.

• There is a specific form on which the objection must be filed.

• Only registered persons may file objections.

• The Returning Officer must advise the person against whom an objection has been filed.

• If the elections are held before the investigation is completed and the name is not removed from the list, the individual would have the right to vote.

Verifying Justices of the Peace:

The CSO Delegation enquired of the Supervisor as to what process was used for verification of those Justices of the Peace who were making declarations for non-nationals wishing to register.

On what basis did the Registration Officer accept the stamp of a Justice of the Peace? What was the protocol? What was the officer’s point of reference?

Members of the CSO Delegation advised that they were particularly concerned since they had obtained information from authoritative sources that a list of the Justices of the Peace had not been Gazetted over the last two years and, therefore, the authority of these persons could be put in question.

The Supervisor advised that his office was in possession of a list of Justices of the Peace. However, at the time of the meeting, the list was not readily available to share with the CSO Delegation.

Amendments to Representation of the People’s Act:

Discrepancies in Numbering: The Supervisor advised that there were discrepancies in the numbering of the forms and these were regularised by amendments via Act 27 of 2016.

Inking Fingers on Election Day:

The delegation enquired into the requirement of the inking of fingers in order to complete the voting process. It was clarified that voters would be obliged to dip their fingers in ink to complete the voting process on Election Day.

Electors Having the Same Name:

The Delegation also enquired as to what would transpire if two electors had the same name.

The Supervisor clarified as follows:-

• Name on Voters’ List: In order to vote, an Elector’s name must be on the Voters’ List. It is not compulsory to present an ID card at the polling station.

• Persons with the Same Name: Persons with the same name should have different registration numbers. In such a case, it is useful to have the Voters’ ID since Presiding Officer would request it. However, in the absence of a Voters’ ID, the elector cannot be disenfranchised if his/her name appears on the Voters’ List.

• Take an Oath: If the second individual does not have the Voters ID, he or she will be allowed to vote but must first take an oath.

• Mark on Counterfoil of Ballot: The returning officer will write on the counterfoil of the ballot which is removed before the ballot is entered into the box.

• Investigation: The case will be investigated. If any of the persons have been found to be fraudulent, he/she will be prosecuted and can go to jail. However, their ballots will be counted. Thus, a fraudulent ballot could materially determine the outcome of the election in a first past the post system as obtains in Grenada.

Voter Padding:

Concerns were raised about voter padding, i.e. people registering in other constituencies other than the one in which they reside. Clarification was sought as to whether information provided by persons was being verified and whether persons were presenting themselves in person at the office to complete the process of registration.

What was the level of non-approvals or investigation by the Office? The Supervisor noted that if a mistake was made by the Registration Officer, the error had to be corrected at that level.

Removal of Election Officers:

The CSO Delegation enquired about the role of the Supervisor of Elections in the removal of seven (7) Registration Officers.

The Supervisor advised as follows:-

• Governor-General’s Decision: The decision to remove the officers was a decision of the Governor-General.

• Unaware of the Criteria: He was unaware of the criteria used by the Governor-General in removing the seven officers and in the appointment of those persons who replaced them.

· No Advice to GG on Appointments: At no time, did the Office of Supervisor, advise the Governor General on either appointments or removals.

*Oath: An Oath of office was administered by the Governor General in respect of the new officers.

Authority and Responsibility of the Office of the Supervisor of Elections:

Following its meeting with the Parliamentary Elections Office, the CSO Delegation sought clarification and advice from legal and other expertise on the responsibility and authority of the Office of the Supervisor of Elections re;-

• the registration of non-nationals on the declaration of Justice of the Peace; and

• the removal/appointment registration and other officers.

The Delegation was advised as follows:-

Office of Supervisor of Elections:

Section 35 of the Constitution of Grenada provides for: –

*Registration of Voters/Conduct of Elections, Section 35(1): -There shall be a Supervisor of Elections whose duty it shall be to exercise general supervision over the registration of voters in election of the House of Representatives and over the conduct of the such elections.

*Not Subject to Direction/Control, Section 35(6):- In the exercise of his functions, the Supervisor shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority.

Authority of the J.P. vis-a-vis Office of the Supervisor of Elections:

The Office of the Supervisor of Elections is not subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority. Therefore, the authority of the Office of the Supervisor of Elections is not subject to the authority of the Justice of the Peace.

The Registration Officer must verify the information in a J.P’s declaration and can reject the declaration if he/she is not satisfied.

According to information provided by Minister Nikolas Steele at a post Cabinet Briefing, the officers were removed because they were past the retirement age and lived outside of the constituency for which they had responsibility.

Verification of information:

It is the responsibility of the Office of the Supervisor of Elections to investigate and verify information provided by persons presenting themselves to be registered.

The Registration Officer, as a representative of the Office of the Supervisor of Elections, has the responsibility to verify the residence of those presenting themselves to be registered.

Section 26A of the Representation of the People’s Act, Cap 286A, provides for the vouching of information. In respect of non-nationals who are presenting the declarations of J.P.’s, the Office has a responsibility to contact the Immigration Office to verify information and to determine the legality of residence. Persons who are on the island illegally do not qualify to be registered.

Termination/Appointment of Registration Officers:

The Office of the Supervisor of Elections has the responsibility and right to advise the Governor-General on the appointment of those officers serving the Office.

While the Governor-General may have acted in her own deliberate judgment, on what information did the Governor-General deliberate and act and what was the source of the information? The Supervisor of Elections advised that at no time did he offer any advice to the Governor-General.

Propriety and Competence of the Office of the Supervisor of Elections:

By its failure to investigate and verify the information presented for the registration of non-nationals in the Constituency of Carriacou & Petite Martinique:-

• Propriety and Competence of the Office of the Supervisor: Has the propriety and competence of the Office of Supervisor of Elections been placed in question? Does this action/inaction give rise the perception that the Office is deliberately or inadvertently supporting voter padding?

• Trust and Confidence in the Electoral Process: Has the trust and confidence in the Electoral Process has been compromised?

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