Stiff penalties for electoral misconduct

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…PPP proposed in draft amendments to elections laws

Penalties ranging from $5M to $10M, and even life imprisonment are among the amendments being proposed for the Representation of the People Act by the Irfaan Ali Administration.

According to the draft Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill 2021, which is currently in circulation for the purpose of consultation, the Chief Elections Officer (CEO) could be fined $10M and sentence to life imprisonment if he or she knowingly contravenes Section 83 by posting an electronic copy of a Statement of Poll (SOP) that is not a true reflection of the certified SOP delivered to him by a Returning Officer (RO).

Under that Section, the Government, through the Ministry of Legal Affairs, is also proposing that duly appointed candidates, counting agents and polling agents or alternate polling agents be given the opportunity by the Presiding Officers (PO) to verify or ascertain every count, examine ballots and recorded information at every stage of the process.

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Failure to comply would result in an offence on the part of the Presiding Officer, who if found guilty, could be subjected to a fine of $10M and 10 years improvement

Additionally, under Section 83 (9B), the Government is proposing additional penalties for Presiding Officers who fail to provide agents with requisite information. According to that proposed subsection: “A presiding officer who denies a duly appointed candidate, counting agent, polling agent or alternate polling agent his right to ascertain the accuracy of the information recorded on the Forms 23, Form 23A, and Form 23B under subsection (9) or fails to comply with subsection (9A) (a) commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of five million dollars and to imprisonment for five years.”

Further, the Government is proposing that “a person who removes a Statement of Poll posted outside of the polling place commits an offence and is liable to summary conviction to a fine of $10M and to imprisonment for 10 years.”

SUBDISTRICTS FOR REGION FOUR
The Ministry of Legal Affairs is also proposing the introduction of “supernumerary returning officer” and “deputy supernumerary returning officer,” thereby extending the definition of who constitutes an “election officer.”

Importantly, it is also proposing the creation of “sub-districts” within Region Four (Demerara-Mahaica) under Section 6A (1), which will be managed and operated by the supernumerary returning officers.

The sub-districts being proposed are: East Bank Demerara, North Georgetown, South Georgetown and the East Coast Demerara. According to Section 6A (2), “Each of the polling sub-districts specified in subsection (1) shall be defined by such number of the total number of polling divisions which constitute district Region 4 under the National Assembly Elections (Constitution of Polling Districts) Order 1980, as may be determined by the Commission by Order.”

Under this new electoral system being proposed, the tabulation of the Statements of Poll (SOPs) in District Four will not be done at a single location as was done during the 2020 General and Regional Election but rather at different locations within the four sub-districts by the supernumerary returning officers.

According to the proposed legislation, the supernumerary returning officer, upon tabulating the total votes cast in favour of each list of candidates in the sub-district recorded on the Sub-District Tabulation Form, shall deliver manually, by the quickest available means, a certified copy of that form to the Region Four Returning Officer (RO).

Once in receipt of all the Sub-District Tabulation Forms, the Region Four Returning Officer, is responsible for tabulating the votes detailed on the forms, however, he or she, would be required to display, using an electronic mechanism each Sub-district Tabulation Form for all the persons entitled under Section 86 (1) to be present, to see clearly the information on the Tabulation Form; and record on an empty District Tabulation Form, the total number of votes recorded in favour of each list of candidates in each sub-district.

Should there be objections by candidates or counting agents, the proposed legislation recommends that the Returning Officer should not proceed with another Sub-district Tabulation Form unless all the information on display is dealt with to the satisfaction of “every person present.”

Immediately after ascertaining the total votes cast in favor of each list of candidates, the Returning Officer is required to publicly declare the total votes recorded. Provisions are also made for recounts as is customary.

Notably, Section 84 (11) states “On ascertaining the total votes cast in each district, including district Region 4, and sub-district for each list of candidates in accordance with the preceding subsections, the returning officer of each district, including of district region 4, and supernumerary returning officer of each sub-district shall deliver manually, by the quickest available means to the Chief Election Officer, a certified copy of the District Tabulation Form or the Sub-District Tabulation Form from which the returning officer or supernumerary returning officer has made his declaration of the total number of valid votes cast in the district or sub-district for each list of candidates.”

The Chief Election Officer would then be required to post the District Tabulation Forms and the Sub-District Tabulation Forms on the Guyana Election Commission’s website. Notably, the Chief Elections Officer would be liable to a summary conviction with a fine of $10M and imprisonment for life, if it is found that he or she knowingly posted or caused to be posted on the Commission’s website a District Tabulation Form and or a Sub-district Tabulation Form that is not a true reflection of the original document.



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