UNC: Rejected Princes Town ballot must be counted

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Saddam Hosein –

BARATARIA/San Juan MP Saddam Hosein said it was clear that the EBC must count in a ballot under dispute in the recount for the Lengua/Indian Walk seat on the Princes Town Regional Corporation, addressing a briefing at the Opposition Leader’s office in Port of Spain on Sunday. The ballot, in the UNC’s favour, if counted would break the 1,428 to 1,428 UNC-PNM tie for the seat for which the EBC has announced a re-run of the election. Two recounts were done.

Hosein said, “On the first day of the recount it was suspiciously found that two votes that were cast in favour of the UNC were counted for the PNM.”

He said the EBC allowed one previously-rejected vote in favour in the UNC, but another pro-UNC ballot remained rejected, lacking the initials of an EBC official

Hosein added, “Now there is one ballot that will determine the election.”

He said the missing initials was no fault of the elector, who was now being unfairly disenfranchised.

The UNC’s Peter Kanhai wrote to the EBC on August 20 to make its case for the ballot in question.

However Hosein described the EBC’s earlier letter of August 19 as having a “very strange and very illogical conclusion” that he said lacked a basic understanding. He said the EBC letter said the ballot lacked a signature, amid no proof of any inadvertent omission or negligence by EBC staff.

Hosein said, “The EBC has admitted in one paragraph they did not sign the ballot but in the next paragraph is saying we are not guilty of any omission or negligence. It makes absolutely no sense.” Hosein said the EBC cannot wash its hands on the matter.

He said, “There is no dispute that this ballot was not a ballot supplied by the returning officer to the presiding officer.

“All of the ballot papers, all of the poll cards when counted reconciled. So there’s no issue of whether there were any additional ballots that were in the station or not.”

He said the law clearly said that on the general count on election night upon discovering a ballot without the EBC official’s initials, the presiding officer should have initialled it. He said, “The EBC has failed in its statutory duty to adhere to the Election Rules.”

Saying the EBC claimed the UNC never objected to the exclusion of the ballot, he said, “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

He said the UNC wanted the EBC to clear up some alleged gaps in its letter to them and make a full and frank disclosure of the details of its investigation into the Lengua/Indian Walk election. He quoted a letter issued earlier on Sunday by UNC leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar alleging “illegal action” by the EBC.

Hosein said, “I want to tell the EBC, it is no easy feat to just disenfranchise a voter due to your negligence, inadvertence and/or omission.”

On Sunday, UNC general secretary Peter Kanhai sent a six-page letter to the EBC.

The UNC argued that if in a count the presiding officer discovers he has omitted to affix his initials he shall do so in the presence of the deputy presiding officer and the poll clerk once satisfied the ballot was one that was supplied to him, that the omission really has been made, and that every ballot paper supplied to him by the returning officer could be accounted for.

Kanhai wrote, “The said letter failed to condescend to provide any details as to why the presiding officer rejected the said ballot. The Election Rules, which must be complied with strictly, expressly provide for the specific circumstances in which a ballot may be rejected.

“It is undisputed that the number of ballots matched the number of polling cards. Hence, there is no question that it was a bona fide ballot issued by the presiding officer during the election at that particular polling station.”

The UNC alleged a failure by the presiding officer to initial the ballot and said there was no requirement for an election candidate or his agents to raise an objection on a ballot missing initials but that the presiding officer must initial it upon discovery.

The letter challenged the EBC’s claim that at the general count the UNC had failed to disagree with the returning officer’s decision on the ballot resulting in no queried ballot marked with a “Q”. The UNC said, “It is, therefore, clear that at both recounts, the UNC candidate disagreed with and objected to the rejection of the ballot by the presiding officer and the said Ms Pamela Ogiste.

“Obviously, the EBC official was duty-bound to mark this ballot with a ‘Q’ to indicate that the ballot’s status is that it was ‘queried’ by a party. The failure to do so could hardly convert what is clearly a queried ballot into an ‘unqueried’ or unquestioned one.”

The letter said the UNC was seeking legal advice over possibly filing a election petition or judicial review.

The letter urged a “full and frank disclosure by the EBC” of its investigations into the matter.

“Hence we request your urgent response by 4 pm today, Sunday, August 20.”

Newsday asked the EBC three questions: Had EBC replied to the EBC by 4 pm? In recounts, did a tally of poll cards match tally of ballots cast inclusive of the rejected ballot or not? If UNC objected to rejection of a ballot at all three recounts, did an EBC official fail in her duty to mark it “Q” to be under query?

EBC corporate communications manager Bobbi Rogers in a WhatsApp text on Sunday evening replied, “The EBC is receiving legal advice and will respond in due course.”