Radhica De Silva
Amidst the threat of rain and the increased spread of COVID-19, hundreds of voters lined up before dawn yesterday waiting to cast their ballots in the two south marginal constituencies.
But it would not be long before allegations of discrepancies and EBC violations cropped up in the San Fernando West and Tableland/Moruga constituencies, prompting interventions from attorneys and EBC officials.
Most of the complaints came from the United National Congress.
At the Gulf View Community Complex, three polling stations were set up, but COVID-19 restrictions created a bottleneck with lines stretching as far as the Gulf View Link Road. Resident Sonny Rambharose said he spent two hours waiting in line before he finally cast his ballot.
“There is one door being used which everyone has to exit and enter. There are two doors but they are keeping one locked. I don’t know why,” Rambharose said.
Attorney for the UNC Jayanti Lutchmedial said in the past the two doors were opened but this year, the EBC changed the layout of the polling stations, locking one door and creating three separate lines.
“This caused chaos and people who were out here before 6 am are only now being allowed to vote, two hours later,” Lutchmedial said.
Hundreds of people stood under umbrellas in the hot sun.
Lutchmedial claimed many electors from Bel Air and Gulf View left the facility in frustration.
“Many elderly people, as well as disabled electors, are not being allowed to drive up to the centre. I have spoken to the presiding officers and they have agreed to look into this matter. They have not explained why they are not opening up the second door but they said opening it may not rectify the problem because the bottleneck is where the actual voting is taking place, “Lutchmedial said.
“I don’t want to speculate that this is deliberate. I have spoken to the presiding officer and I want to see if the problems are being rectified before I decide whether this is deliberate.”
She said she planned to write to the EBC’s returning officer, noting that in the past both doors were open and only two polling stations were located at the centre.
She also called for standard operating procedures saying it could not be that the elderly and infirmed are banned for driving into the polling station’s yard in some areas and other areas they are disallowed.
Meanwhile, at the ASJA Girls’ polling station, elderly people were walking from Todd Street to the station.
Sobers, who voted at the Mon Repos RC, said he was happy with the COVID-19 protocols. He said he had worked extremely hard in the constituency and was confident of a victory.
At the Moruga/Tableland constituency, UNC candidate Michelle Benjamin also reported discrepancies at the five polling stations in the hotly contested seat. After casting her vote at the St Mary’s Government Primary school Benjamin said the UNC had some setbacks which were later sorted out by its legal team.
“At this polling station, the presiding officer moved our mock station. She was being a little... I don’t want to use those words... But the system is still functioning even though they were moving individuals,” Benjamin said.
She explained that at the New Grant Government School the UNC’s legal team again had to intervene when the presiding officer refused to allow the polling agent and the sub-agent to view the ballot box when it was first opened.
“At Marac RC we had problems with moving of the mock station. There was a problem in Kanhai Presbyterian school as well and my legal team sorted it out,” she said.
Benjamin said she was pleased that voting went smoothly.
“In the constituency, we had minor issues but we think that voting will pick up again at noon,” Benjamin said.
She explained that there were hundreds of people at the Cowen Hamilton Secondary School which housed three polling stations.
When Guardian Media visited the school, dozens of people had lined up in front of the building. Voting flowed smoothly but some electors like Gajraj Ramjattan said he hoped that the process could have been faster.
“I spent about one hour in the line but I am happy I got through,” Ramjattan said.
Glen Graham was eager to say the party he voted for saying, “I vote for Gypsy, he is from the rising sun.” Gypsy had been part of the UNC but switched and became the PNM candidate for the area. He voted as a special elector.
Most of the issues were ironed out by midday but there continued to be long lines at the polling stations in both marginal constituencies.