BASSETERRE, St. Kitts – IN an interim report on the July 11, 2011 Nevis Island Elections, the local Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) Observer Group stated that despite the generally peaceful nature of the campaign and the electoral process, a number of irregularities were observed.
The first noticeable irregularity noted was that voters had difficulty finding their polling stations or their names on the partial Electoral List inside the polling stations, and this caused several of them to be disenfranchised.
“We welcome the generally peaceful nature of the campaign and the electoral process. At the same time, we were saddened by the fact that a number of Nevisians were disenfranchised, and persons known to be permanent residents in St. Kitts were able to participate in the elections are voters.
“There remain shortcomings with the voters’ registration, based on the number of people with voter cards but missing from the voters’ register. This needs to be urgently addressed,” the report states.
It also noted that the willingness of persons to view the electoral process as free and fair was undermined by a strong distrust for the electoral authority, adding that “the contention over the removal of names from the Voters’ List and the different positions voiced by the Supervisor of Elections as opposed to the Electoral Commission is serious cause for concern”.
In addition to the above, the report stated that the unlawful mandating of duties to the police by the Supervisor of Elections, Leroy Benjamin Sr., added to the suspicion of fraud and partiality, and that these were serious problems that negatively affected democracy, transparency and fairness in the process.
The Observer Group stated that its members were impressed by the vigor of the media and the coverage they provided to the electoral process, but they were disappointed with the predominant exposure given to the Nevis Reformation Party (NRP) by the state-owned media in both St. Kitts and Nevis.
They posited that state media should accord equitable coverage to all stakeholders, particularly during the campaign period.
The group also criticised some of the private media houses, noting that they too “must transcend narrow partisan considerations and report more objectively and in the larger interest of the nation”.
On Polling Day, the observer group claims that some persons who did not live within the constituency showed up to vote at polling stations because their names were there.
Additionally, the group said, “At one polling station in particular, a Hispanic national showed up to vote. He could not speak English, was barely able to understand the instructions of the presiding officer, did not know where he live, but his name was on the Voters’ List.
“There were also persons who showed up to vote who were prominent citizens in their community. They had voted there before and in some cases were known by the poll workers, but whose names were not on the list. The polling station workers however, did not allow them to cast their ballots.”
Some of these disenfranchised persons, the report states, had indicated that they would be seeking redress in the courts.
Another noticeable irregularity was in the case of an elderly lady, who supported by her helper, went to cast her ballot but was denied the immediate opportunity because her passport was expired. However, someone showed up with an expired ID card and was allowed to vote.
Members of the observer group also noticed slight inconsistencies in the demonstration/instructions given to voters concerning the handling of ballot paper.
They claimed that the majority of presiding officers pre-folded the ballot paper for the voters, which ensured their privacy.
But it was observed that “one presiding officer in Constituency #2 did not follow this practice, hence 80% of those who voted at that polling station had their privacy compromised as the candidates agents, the presiding officer and clerk were able to see for whom they voted.
“In another polling station in the same Constituency #2, the presiding officer proceeded to remove the foil from the ballot paper before persons were allowed to cast their vote. This speaks to the amount of training that was done with the electoral officers and such action by these officers could have led to ballot tampering”.
Generally, the report states, voting and counting at the polling station levels were conducted in a calm and orderly manner, but the observer group found it inexcusable that, in an age of information and technology, the final election results had taken far too long to be reported.
“We strongly advise that counting of ballots should be done at each polling station in an effort to expedite the announcement of election results,” the group advised.
They also noted that the identified short comings need to be enhanced and that there are serious concerns with the Voters’ List.
“There is need for a credible voters’ register crucial to building elector confidence and to delivering transparent and genuine elections,” the report reads.