We were misled into putting our official mark on the counterfoils
Two presiding officers who worked at polling stations CLF and CLF1 in Central Leeward admitted that they were misled into putting their official mark on the counterfoils of ballots instead of the body of the ballot.
Susan Thomas was the first presiding officer to take the stand yesterday as the election petitions case rolled into its second week, investigating the evidence into alleged irregularities said to have occurred on the December 9, 2015 general elections.
Thomas was a presiding officer at CLF, the polling station from which the petitioners are saying all ballots should not have been counted because they did not bear the stamp and initials of the presiding officer as is required.
Thomas was asked by lead counsel for petitioner Benjamin Exeter, Stanley ‘Stalky’ John QC, what was the training that she received. Thomas said that she had been trained about three weeks before the elections, by returning officer Winston Gaymes (a respondent in the proceedings).
She said that Gaymes had instructed that the initial and stamp remain on the ballot that goes into the box, but that he had also taught them that the counterfoil should be removed from the ballot. She however said that Gaymes did not have a ballot with him for the purposes of demonstrating this.
The Layou resident was asked why, given her experience, she didn’t place the initial and stamp on the ballot that went into the box, as she was used to doing before.
“Because it mark tear here and the design was different,” she explained, saying that she had been following directions where it said on the ballot for her to put her initial and stamp in a certain place.
When asked if she thought anything was wrong with the ballots she put in the box, she said yes, and repeated that the “design was different.”
In cross examination by counsel Anthony Astaphan (Dominican) SC, it was established that Thomas told Gaymes what had happened when he called her the next day to find out what went wrong.
Another circumstance that was highlighted, was that the line on the ballot that Thomas tore was not perforated. Thomas, in reply to why the ballot in evidence, which she was shown, was torn, she said that she had to use a ruler or scissors to remove the counterfoils.
“All the years you’ve been working as a presiding officer you ever had to use scissors and ruler to tear the ballot?” John asked her, to which Thomas replied, “No please.”
She said she counted the ballots because this is what she was supposed to do.
The presiding officer at CLF1 was also called to the stand, but unlike at polling station CLF, only a certain number (the petitioners claim 99 ballots) had the initial and stamp on the counterfoils instead.
Wallace Christopher of Layou said that he had started by placing his official mark on the counterfoils, following the directions there, but “then my training kicked in and reminded me that the initial and the stamp should be on the ballot when it is detached from the counterfoil.” That is when he began to correct his actions, he said.
When asked why he put his initial and stamp in the box on the counterfoil, he replied “perhaps I was misled,” and that he later on recalled what he should be doing.
He also said he was trained by Gaymes, and that Gaymes did not have a ballot for the purpose of demonstration.
Christopher said that he saw nothing wrong with the counting those ballots because he was “100% sure” that all those ballots were what he gave to voters because they had been returned to him with the initial and the stamp.
The last round of cross examination of the Supervisor of Elections at the time, Sylvia Findlay-Scrubb (a respondent) was conducted by Keith Scotland, lead counsel for petitioner Lauron Baptiste.
Scotland questioned her about the ballot boxes used, which were plastic and secured by ties, instead of the wooden ones under lock and key. The ballot boxes have to be in compliance with the stipulations laid out for them in the Representation of the People Act.
She admitted that the boxes in the North Windward constituency were plastic. She also responded that they had detachable lids, no hinges, that none had locks, and consequently they had no keys.
She was asked about the flaps on the boxes. “And the flap on each of those boxes could have admitted more than one ballot at a time?” Scotland asked her.
She responded that she did not know.
“Did you not think it wise and prudent to check to see if the boxes, the flaps could have admitted more than one ballot at a time?,” the counsel persisted, to which Findlay-Scrubb replied that her concern was that one ballot could be fit at a time.
Although the ties used to secure the boxes could be easily cut and in theory replaced by the same ties, only a certain number of ties and therefore a certain number of colours were given to the presiding officers for each stage, and no more than what was needed, Findlay-Scrubb stated.
“The ties that you gave, they were exclusively bought. They didn’t exist any other place other than from you?,” Scotland pressed.
She said that the only place that they could have been retrieved from was the electoral office.
The respondent was also asked about the complaint that 39 excess counterfoils had been counted in a North Windward polling station.
When she heard about this in the petition, why didn’t she inquire into it, Scotland questioned.
“That issue would have certainly been dealt with in the preliminary count, if at that particular stage there were in fact 39 counterfoils more. That had to be reconciled in the presence of the agents, before the presiding officer could have proceeded with the preliminary count,” Findlay-Scrubb returned.
She was told that she was not speaking factually.
From this, Scotland asked her if any form 16s (statement of the polls upon which all the ballots issued by the Supervisor of Elections are accounted for) had been provided by her from the North Windward constituency, which she said they had not.
She could give no reason for this, other than it escaped her attention at the time, and admitted that it was mandated by the House of Assembly Election rules for the presiding officer to make copies of the form 16s.
“You have exhibited the final results yes? But you have shown this court no workings as to how that final result was arrived at via the form 16s,” the lead counsel told her.
Findlay-Scrubb said that the returning officer had seen the form 16s and had prepared a report which was given to her.