Supervisor of Elections asked about the use of plastic ballot boxes
On Friday, the respondents in the elections petitions case survived an application by the petitioners, which would have cut their witness list down significantly.
On the fifth day of the hearing, Stanley ‘Stalky’ John QC, lead counsel for New Democratic Party (NDP) candidate Benjamin Exeter, made a submission just before the respondents were about to call their second witness.
John stated that, following an application of rule 20 of the Election Petitions Rules, it would follow that the respondents (presiding officer Kathleen Jeffers, returning officer Winston Gaymes, former Supervisor of Elections Sylvia Findlay-Scrubb, and Sir Louis Straker) were the only ones permitted to give evidence for the Central Leeward petition and no other witnesses could be called.
He said this was because notice should have been served on the petitioners if other witnesses were to be called and seeing that this had not been done, no other witnesses should be heard.
Lead counsel for three of the respondents, Trinidadian Douglas Mendes SC, and lead counsel for the attorney general, Dominican Anthony Astaphan SC, both rejected this interpretation.
Mendes noted that what the respondents are doing is simply defending themselves against the allegations made against them and, “you’re obviously entitled to defend the allegation … not only with yourself, but with the evidence of whomsoever may assist the court at that point.”
He and Astaphan said that rule 20 did not apply in this case and
supported this by referencing other rules in the said election petitions rules and a form 18 notice of recrimination attached.
The judge ruled that he was satisfied that the interpretation of the rule 20 as it had been put forward by the counsel for the respondents.
The Supervisor of Elections, Sylvia Findlay-Scrubb’s cross examination for the Central Leeward ended on Friday, with QC John asking his final question to her. However, for the North Windward petition, Trinidadian counsel Keith Scotland, who was absent on Friday, will commence his cross-examination on Monday.
John asked Findlay-Scrubb why she resisted the motion to inspect the ballot boxes.
“It was my understanding that the preliminary count and the final count of the votes cast in Central Leeward were the same,” she replied, noting that she had also never received complaints from any of the parties that there were discrepancies either on election day or afterwards.
John referenced written evidence given by returning officer Winston Gaymes who said that when he opened the ballot box for CLF, he noticed that none of the ballots had the initials or official mark of the presiding officer. Gaymes also said he was minded to reject all, but Exeter and his lawyers were minded to have them counted.
Gaymes then apparently said “what is good for the goose, is good for the gander. I meant that Mr Exeter’s consent was the right thing to do, as both candidates would receive and in fact received votes from this box,” as, read by the lead counsel.
Lead counsel John asked Findlay-Scrubb if she felt this action was correct.
She responded that she couldn’t say because, “he would have been operating under particular circumstances at the final count, all of which I do not know,” and that she could only trust his judgment.
In response to when the decision to move from wooden ballot boxes to plastic boxes was taken, Scrubb stated “when I joined the staff of the electoral office in January of 2009, that decision was already taken.”
Scrubb noted that the plastic boxes were used in both the 2009 referendum and the 2010 general elections.
Astaphan, in cross examination, asked her whether representatives from the political parties had been invited to view the sample boxes before the referendum in 2009, and she said they had, with then Opposition Leader Arhnim Eustace representing the NDP. They were shown how they were secured and both sides expressed satisfaction with the boxes, she said.
Lead counsel John rose to ask that the question be struck out because it was not relevant.
Mendes noted that one of the claims of the petitioners is that the boxes were not secured properly and there was the likelihood that the secrecy of the ballots had been exposed. He said it was relevant because, “the major political actors, that is to say, the ULP and the NDP, were quite happy to conduct a referendum and the elections in 2010, with these very boxes.”
The judge ruled to allow the question, “one of the central issues to be determined in this petition is the question of whether the ballot boxes used in the election were in accordance with the rules, and whether they breached any of the rules,” he noted, and that numerous questions had been asked in John’s cross examination, about the construction of the boxes.
The cross examination of the respondents’ witnesses will continue on Monday.