Guyanese are well aware of the Opposition allegations that the electoral list is bloated and needs to be ‘cleaned.’ In recent letters to the press, the Attorney General has pointed out, in a more direct manner than I have done in the past, that the electoral list cannot be bloated if the Chief Justice has ruled that names are validly on the list even if the persons cannot be located at their addresses.
The decision means that the name of a person who has migrated cannot be deleted from the list since there is no resident requirement for voting and, therefore, no resident requirement for being on the electoral roll. The Opposition blindly promotes the flawed idea that the electoral list is bloated in the face of the repeated publicising of the constitutional provision that does not provide a resident qualification for voting. Article 59 of the Constitution states that “… every person may vote at an election if he or she is of the age of eighteen years or upwards and is either a citizen of Guyana or a Commonwealth citizen domiciled or resident in Guyana.”
If all Guyanese in the world, wherever resident, are entitled to vote, the number of Guyanese against whom the electoral list has to be considered for ‘bloat’ is the population of Guyanese in the entire world because all are entitled to be on the electoral list. Forbes recently calculated that the diaspora of Guyanese is 36 percent. According to the World Bank, Guyana’s population in 2021 is 790,329. That figure plus 36 percent amounts to 1,074,847. The number of persons on Guyana’s electoral list is 684,384, which is 63 percent of 1,074,847. This might not be a truly scientific calculation, especially since it is believed that the Guyanese migrant population is much larger. But when the resident population plus the migrated population are added and the numbers on the electoral list are calculated as a percentage of the total number of Guyanese, all of whom, over 18, are entitled to vote, a completely different picture emerges as regards the issue of ‘bloat.’ Determining ‘bloat’ on the basis of residents only is deception because non-residents are entitled to be on the electoral list.
Both the PPP and PNC have long ignored the contradiction in the National Registration Act that provides a resident requirement for registration on the national register. An Order usually provides for the electoral list to be extracted from the national register. This process is legally flawed because non-resident, who are entitled to vote, were legally excluded from the national register, from which the electoral list is extracted. The reality of this illegality, to which I have referred many times, is now catching up with both political parties, neither of which would like to see a return of the dreaded overseas vote which the PNC manipulated to rig elections back in the day. With an electoral list excluding non-residents, and the high rate of emigration, two electoral cycles down the road, the issue of a bloated list will once again arise, posing a problem in perpetuity.
Prior to 1992 the Elections Commission, of which I was then a member, set out the basic structures which have existed until the present, supported by laws agreed to by both parties, for free and fair elections. These included a new electoral list, control over the list by the Elections Commission, counting at the place of poll, the presence of polling agents, signatures of election officials and polling agents on the statements of poll, accompaniment of ballot boxes by polling agents and others. At each elections cycle further measures to perfect the system have been introduced. One such measure was voter identification cards for the 1997 elections. Both parties agreed to it and the law was passed unanimously. The 1997 elections was challenged by Esther Perreira, on behalf of the PNC, alleging, inter alia, that the voter identification law was unconstitutional, thereby reneging on its commitment. The court ruled that the law was unconstitutional, and the elections of 1997 were vitiated. The effect of the court ruling was that any law which placed an obstacle on the right of a voter to exercise his or her franchise, except as provided for by the Constitution, was unlawful.
Fraudulent voting is well-nigh impossible with the systems currently in place. Yet the Opposition, defying reality, insinuates that the PPP, in opposition, rigged the elections by some 100,000 fraudulent voters. Spokespersons now suggest electronic fingerprinting at the place of poll as the solution, just as they suggested voter identification in the past, then successfully challenged its constitutionality. The Opposition has not explained, having regard to the Esther Perreira case, how it will overcome the unconstitutionality of a fingerprinting law, which will provide an obstacle to voting, just as the voter identification law did. Amend the Constitution? In this political atmosphere?
I have already pointed out in a previous article the equipment that would be needed: 2,000 electronic fingerprinting equipment, 2,000 transmitting equipment to a screen, 2,000 screens, electricity equipment for places that have no electricity and for blackouts. And with the increased needed for fingerprinting, wouldn’t voting have to be configured with many more polling stations? And how many hundreds of millions more?