Complaints about ballot boxes should have come years ago – Judge
It is too late in the day to complain about the plastic ballot boxes used in the elections, Justice Stanley John has ruled.
John delivered his judgment last Thursday dismissing the petitions filed by New Democratic Party(NDP) candidates Lauron Baptiste and Benjamin Exeter.
In his 63-page judgment made available to the public online on the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court(ECSC) website, he breaks down the pleadings of the petitioners which alleged serious irregularities during the 2015 general elections.
Maia Eustace and Benjamin Exeter, who were witnesses for the Central Leeward petition both evidenced their concern with the plastic ballot boxes used and how they were secured. They wrote that they had observed the way that the boxes were sealed, with plastic ties and easily removable plastic seals that did not leave a trace when removed; and they concluded that the boxes were therefore not properly sealed.
The judge noted that Exeter had agreed that he did not put any evidence before the court that, while the boxes could be tampered with, that they had been tampered with.
The Supervisor of Elections, Sylvia Findlay-Scrubb, in her evidence, had noted that no complaints were made about these boxes in previous years. “The ballot boxes provided for the election, about which complaint is made in this constituency, were identical to the ballot boxes provided for all the other constituencies, about which no complaint has been made. Furthermore, these were the same ballot boxes which were used in the referendum held in 2009 and the general election held in December 2010 and there were no complaints then about the boxes,” she said.
Further, before the decision to switch to the boxes in 2009, she said that she invited representatives of both parties to view the sample box. The representatives came and it was demonstrated to them how the boxes would be secured.
“Both sides expressed satisfaction with the boxes,” Findlay-Scrubb claimed, including the then leader of the NDP, Arnhim Eustace.
She accepted under cross examination that there was no provision in the Rules of the House of Assembly dealing with plastic ties and seals, but said that she had to make a decision on how to seal the plastic boxes.
“Both Mr Stanley John QC (lead counsel for Benjamin Exeter) and Mr Keith Scotland (counsel for Lauron Baptiste) in their written submissions have invited the Court to find that the ballot boxes seen at the final count were not sealed in accordance with the Rules and that neither of the presiding officers transmitted envelopes with keys for the ballot boxes,” the judge stated.
In the end, he ruled that the SOE’s evidence was unchallenged that the boxes were used in 2009 and 2010.
“On the evidence, all the political parties had an opportunity to examine the plastic boxes before the decision was made in 2009 to replace the wooden boxes. The unchallenged evidence of the Supervisor of Elections is that she invited representatives of the NDP and the ULP to view the sample box and representatives of both parties attended and expressed satisfaction with the boxes,” John reviewed.
“The Court accepts her evidence and therefore thinks that it is too late in the day to complain about the use of plastic boxes and the manner in which they were secured. As I understand the concern of the Petitioner Benjamin Exeter, the boxes were not tamper proof and thereby susceptible to undetected intrusion. That is not evidence that any of the boxes were tampered with,” he concluded.
He also stated that with regard to the seals that could be removed without a trace, and plastic ties that fastened the boxes that could be cut and replaced, that there was no evidence before the court that this happened and that the court was not permitted to speculate.