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Someone needs to set the record straight

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The claims that have been made recently in various quarters that ballots cast in general elections in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) can potentially be matched with voters is troubling.

What makes these claims particularly worrying is that such assertions have not been made by the ordinary man on the street, but can be found in a judgement from the High Court and were made by a lawyer for the Government and an activist close to the governing Unity Labour Party.{{more}}

Although Government lawyer Anthony Astaphan quickly retracted his recent statement that ballot papers carry numbers on their backs which allow them to be matched to the counterfoils, his statement, coming on the heels of the High Court judgement would be cause for concern to any reasonable person.

The Representation of the People Act 1982 (RPA) sets out both the procedure to be followed during voting and design of the ballot paper, including the counterfoil. This Act, coupled with decades of voter education by successive supervisors of elections, has taught us that while our voter number is written on the counterfoil, there is no identifying characteristic on the ballot itself, which is detached from the counterfoil before it is placed in the ballot box.

As voters, we would have observed that this is the procedure that was carried out in our general elections and that there was no voter number written on our ballot paper. Any election day official — returning officer, presiding officer, poll clerk or agent can attest that this is the procedure followed.

That being said, it is conceivable that if a counterfoil is not cleanly detached from a ballot and instead leaves a tear or a jagged edge, it can, like a jigsaw puzzle, be matched to the ballot from which it was torn. Could this have been what the judge was referring to in relation to those ‘mutilated ballots’ from Central Leeward?

But to suggest or assert that there is a method that can be used to match every voter to his or her ballot is misleading and only serves to create confusion and fear in the minds of voters.

Someone needs to set the record straight.

Ordinarily, this would be the responsibility of the Supervisor of Elections, but being a defendant in the election petitions presently before the court, it would be entirely unreasonable to expect Ms Findlay to speak on such a matter at this time.

But sooner rather than later, and definitely before the people of this country go to the polls again, an intensive voter education campaign will be needed to rebuild confidence among voters that once the RPA is correctly applied, their votes cannot be traced.

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