Petitioners’ lawyers still want to inspect ballot boxes
A lawyer for the main opposition, New Democratic Party (NDP), say the legal team will again ask the court to allow them to inspect the ballot boxes used in the Dec. 9, 2015 general elections as part of the petitions that were reinstated this week.
“I don’t know what it is that the respondents have to hide why they would challenge our right, which the law gives us, to see the ballots, to examine and inspect the ballots,” Kay Bacchus-Baptiste told an NDP press conference on Thursday.
She said the matter started when the petitioners made an application to inspect the ballots, but High Court judge, Justice Brian Cottle, said that it was a fishing expedition and if they were granted the request, showing the ballot will reveal how individual electors voted.
“That is far from correct, despite the fact that [Anthony] Astaphan, the lawyer for the respondents, went on air and tried to say exactly the same thing, however, he retracted.”
Bacchus-Baptiste said that the petitioners had given “cogent evidence” that over 300 ballots were illegally counted in Central Leeward.
“And in my view, Justice Cottle was wrong to make that decision. On both counts, we were not fishing, we had given sufficient evidence that any fair-minded and right-minded persons, listening to that evidence — and I’m not impugning the judge; I am just saying that from our perspective, we thought that that inspection should have been granted.”
She said that the petitioners are saying that if the respondents are so sure that everything is above board, why are they so adamant that the petitioners should not see the boxes and should not be able to inspect the ballots.
The petitioners’ lawyers had made their initial application when the petitions were initially filed more than a year ago.
The Court of Appeal, this week, ruled that there was apparent bias in Cottle’s handling of the case, in which he threw out the petitions as improperly filed.
The Appeal Court sent back the petitions to the High Court for hearing before a different judge.
Bacchus-Baptiste noted that the law prescribes that it should be possible to lock the ballot boxes and open them with a key and that one should be able to seal the ballot boxes.
“The law prescribed that the seal should be placed around the ballot boxes that the presiding officer, the agent and so forth attach their signature to it. That seal should not be easily removed or should not be removed at all, without breaking the seal.”
She said she was present at the final count in central leeward and saw the ballot boxes.
“The seal is illegal, as far as I am concerned. That is not the seal that the framers of the RPA (Representation of the People Act) envisioned when they say that you should seal it. I saw a piece of tape taped around it. When you wrote your name around it, you can take the tape off and put it back and nobody would know whether the boxes were tampered with, Bacchus-Baptiste said.
“Those tie strings that they used, those can be removed and the seal put back. That is not what was contemplated when we talk about locking the box. Locking it with a key and the key would be securely kept at the police station in an envelope and the proper seal on the box. If anybody were to tamper with it and take off the seal, you would know. It would break. That is not what they used there.
“I am flabbergasted by those big bins that are being used with a slot that can admit about 300 votes one time. That is not what the law contemplated. And the public needs to know that their democracy is being challenged,” she said.
“When you have a ballot box that, at some point, you can drop in so many ballots easily because the flap is way too big, that is not what the law contemplated. So inspecting the ballot box would be allowing the court to have a view of what our ballot boxes in St. Vincent are. Those boxes were changed just before the referendum. I remember what the boxes used to be like. They were not so easy to tamper with. So, I call upon the Supervisor of Elections to look into that. I call upon all Vincentians, actually to ensure that we never go back to an election with boxes like that.”
The NDP is challenging the results of the Dec. 9, 2015 general elections in the Central Leeward and North Windward constituencies, saying that they do not reflect the will of voters.
The ruling Unity Labour Party won eight of the 15 parliamentary seats to secure a fourth consecutive term in office, while the remaining seven of the seats went to the NDP in a carbon copy of the 2010 election results.
The respondents say that the petitions do not have the proper surety and, therefore, should be thrown out as not being properly before the court.
But Bacchus-Baptiste said this is not the case.
“… what the petitioners did when they signed the surety is what the RPA rules told them to do. So, you have one rule saying the petitioners should sign and you have another one saying you should sign on behalf of the petitioners. That’s what really happened,” Bacchus-Baptiste said.
She said her team is confident that should the petitions go back to a court “on an even playing field, we shall prevail on the issue of whether the surety is good or not”.
She, however, appealed to the respondents not to attempt to block the hearing of the petitions.
“I am just throwing this out to the respondents. Let’s just get to the merits of the matter. If you are so sure of your case, let us get to the merits of the petitions. Let us have those ballot boxes examined and the ballots examined,” Bacchus-Baptiste said.