Come rain or hail, the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) will not be extending the hours for voting in tomorrow’s general election.
That was made clear yesterday by Chief Election Officer Fern Narcis-Scope during a sit-down interview with Guardian Media ahead of the election.
Thunderstorms associated with the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone affected parts of Trinidad on Friday night resulting in flooding around the country. The T&T Meteorological Service issued a Yellow Level adverse weather alert yesterday as a result.
Despite the adverse weather, however, when Guardian Media visited the EBC’s head office on Frederick Street, Port-of-Spain, yesterday morning it was buzzing with activity.
In the last general election, the EBC came under fire for extending the voting time by one hour, because of inclement weather. The party challenged the decision in the High Court.
“We were in court for nearly a year. The court said though well-intentioned we did not have the discretion to extend the time beyond 6 pm so that will not be happening again. Come rain or hail that will not be happening again,” Narcis-Scope said.
“We will just have to pray for good weather on the day and we say God is a Trini so on the 10th we will need his help.”
Narcis-Scope said where feasible the EBC will ensure tents are placed at polling stations to provide shelter. This is one of several additional costs that the EBC has had to undertake in this year’s general election.
Normally a general election costs upward of $40 million, but this year it will be much more expensive, she said.
“This is going to be a costly election. When we submitted our estimates for the mid-year review we contemplated of course whether we would have an election in this fiscal.
“So we asked for $50 million, we got $43 million so we already started not with what we had averaged and of course when we submitted the mid-year review we did not contemplate COVID,” she said.
“So those figures did not contemplate COVID-19 so we have some juggling to do in terms of the finances and this election has proven to be exceedingly costly,” Narcis-Scope said.
One of the additional cost for this general election is the employment of 2,210 polling day staff to dispense sanitiser at polling stations around the country.
In addition to that, the EBC paid for increased training for staff and purchased face masks, additional stamps and hand sanitiser.
In some cases, larger venues for polling stations had to be acquired because of COVID-19.
Narcis-Scope could not say whether voter turnout will be affected because of the resurgence of COVID in T&T but assured that the EBC has measures in place.
“Wearing a mask has not been legislated and we cannot deny a person their franchise if they are not wearing a mask. If you’re coughing and sneezing, we cannot deny you your right, because you have a constitutional right to exercise your franchise, so what I would say to anyone is to safeguard yourself because there could be a person who might be ill. You ensure that you comply with the guidelines as we have put them out and once you do that you will be safe,” she said.
“I really do not know how the electorate feels but what I could give them is every assurance that we are doing all that we are supposed to ensure that they are safe. Once you maintain that physical distancing in the line, you wear a mask and you sanitise you will be okay but I am hoping that the electorate is comforted by the efforts of the Elections and Boundaries Commission and that people will come out and exercise their franchise.
“But I think that political parties have a role to play in terms of soothing the fears of their supporters. They are in more direct contact with the electorate in a more familiar manner walking through the communities in a way that we are not so they have that direct relationship with the communities and it is up to them as our partners as well to send the same message that every effort is being made and they know that every effort is being made because they have met with us and any concern that they have raised we have taken into consideration in our arrangements,” she said.
Narcis-Scope said returning officers are also being protected.
“The vast majority of the returning officers fall within that vulnerable group, they are all mature individuals so I said to them from the outset that they could not afford to get COVID-19 so we have been steadfast in protecting them. We’ve provided them from the very inception with all the requisite PPE and cleaning supplies and told them that they have to ensure that they are safe because they have to run this thing,” she said.
Narcis-Scope lamented the fact that there will not be any election observers present.
“We do not have international observers which is somewhat of a disappointment,” she said.
“I was looking forward to meeting colleagues in election management and getting that stamp of approval in terms of how we would have conducted this election and also any recommendations moving forward,” Narcis-Scope said.
“What is of great value to us is the recommendations that come out of those reports because that is where you see how you can improve your processes for the next election. So the feedback, therefore, will have to come from the media, from the electorate and from the political parties this time. I look forward to that,” she said.
Narcis-Scope was among the election observers who visited to Guyana for their election in March. The official results for that election were only given last week when Irfaan Ali was named president. She said a similar delay will not happen here.
“We have a totally different system. Our presiding officers are responsible for the count and they take their statement of the poll to the returning officer and all he or she is going to do is apply the numbers as put on that statement of the poll.
“We have a very transparent system in that we have polling agents, representatives of all the parties, who will have witnessed the count, signed that statement of the poll.
“Everybody who is present in the polling station at the time of the count will get one so you’re getting what essentially are six or so originals because everybody signs that so the party knows what the final figures are for that box so there is a transparency in the process by virtue of having the polling agents,” she explained.
“So we are all on the same page in terms of what happened in this particular polling station and that will be true for the 2210 of them.
“So the returning officer just really has to do some math, add up all those figures to determine who is the successful candidate and at the office of the returning officer while that is happening you would have the agents in that office seeing what is happening,.
“So I don’t anticipate any problems all the persons we have selected to work as returning officers have the experience, they have done it before, this is not their first rodeo so I don’t anticipate any issues in that regard.”
Narcis-Scope said elections are a competition. There is a winner and there are going to be losers. However, she anticipates litigation once results are announced since that has become the order of the day in elections throughout the region.
She said there are indications of litigation with respect to Barry Padarath’s nomination for the Princes Town constituency.
She rubbished claims that Venezuelan nationals are being allowed into the country to vote.
Nacis-Scope cited Section 13 of the Representation of the People Act where there are stipulated guidelines as to who can be allowed to vote.
“Any person that you see that could be Venezuelan that is registered to vote could only be because that person is a dual citizen,” she said.