Free and fair elections are guaranteed by access of all political parties to the political process, an accurate voters’ list, freedom to vote in conditions of security, the secrecy of the ballot, an adequate system of identification of voters, a transparent counting method and secure transmission of the results. These elements were all recognized in 1992 and legislation was enacted to implement most of them. From that time until recently, additional methods of transparency were added. One such important innovation was the system of scrutineers. Political parties were allowed by law to appoint scrutineers to each registration exercise, and they were paid by the government. This precluded the possibility of fake names being placed on the registration list, from which the voters’ list is extracted. Apart from this and other innovations, GECOM’s systems, with much support from donors, was substantially improved over the years. However, all of these expansive and costly efforts did not prevent allegations of rigging most elections since 1992, despite overseas observer reports validating them and their results.
The electoral list has never been a major issue after 1992 when a new list was compiled. Since then, several new registration lists have been complied to ensure accuracy by eliminating persons who had died or migrated. Some deceased were removed by a legal process by which the Registrar supplies to GECOM names of deceased persons. These registration lists recorded names only of residents, as provided for by the National Registration Act, so that when the electoral list is extracted from the registration list, as usually happens, persons who have left Guyana after the registration exercise, remain on the list. The constitution of Guyana gives them the right to vote so that there is no legal reason why they should not remain on the list.
It was expected that before the elections were held in 2020 there would be a new registration exercise and therefore a new voters list. However, the no confidence vote against the APNU+AFC Government in 2018, and the attempts by APBU+AFC to thwart the will of the National Assembly, and President Granger, that followed, left no time for house to house registration. The attempt by GECOM, under a Chair later declared to have been illegally elected, to eliminate names from the list which were not found at the addresses given, was held by the Court to be unlawful. In the end, the list used for the elections had already been used for several election cycles. APNU+AFC, under the name of the PNC, which rigged elections between 1968 and 1985, having failed in its gross attempt to manipulate the elections results, turned the tables on the Opposition PPP and accused it of rigging the elections using the ‘bloated’ list and voting for dead and migrated people. No explanation was given of how these fake voters bypassed polling agents of political parties, with ID card or passports that showed someone else.
What really happened was that APNU+AFC, holding political power, used that power to try to steal the elections for the first time since 1985, and were caught red-handed. But they didn’t understand that times had changed. The recent exchange between Vice President Jagdeo and Opposition Leader Norton, and Mr. Norton’s campaign generally, revealed the resumption of APNU strategy of rigged elections and ethnic discrimination against African Guyanese, which had formed the bedrock of APNU message since 1992. Proof of rigging has always been available – the SOPs. APNU has refused to produce them.
To overcome the PPP’s alleged rigging of elections, allies of APNU are now reviving a fringe proposal of biometric identification. This would be identification by fingerprint or retina. To accomplish this, extensive laws have to be enacted, hundreds of millions of dollars in equipment would have to be purchased, hundreds of millions more would have to be spent in training staff, more hundreds of millions would have to be spent in compiling a register of the biometric data. The equipment would have to be deployed on election day, and the voter to undergo a check by the Presiding Officer to ensure that he or she is who he or she says who he or she is. But what is to prevent the Presiding Officer from announcing that a person has passed the test, when he or she has not? Would all polling agents be given the equipment to check, as they could have done with the ID cards or passports? Or would there be a screen installed where the results of the equipment in the possession of the Presiding Officer can be automatically displayed for all to see? What about if the Presiding Officer can manipulate the result from the equipment? And if the Presiding Officer cannot, who will convince APNU of this when it loses the elections? And what happens if there is a blackout? Would generators be supplied to each polling station?
The problem in Guyana is not rigged elections. It is the struggle ethno-political dominance. Allegations of rigged elections and the periodic beating of Indians is a symptom of that problem. Tinkering at the edges with biometric identification, and all other such pretend solutions, outside of a radical political solution, will solve nothing. In the meantime, APNU+AFC is being left behind.