General Elections in St. Vincent and the Grenadines were held on Wednesday, 9th December, 2015. Election Day was generally conducted in a peaceful environment.
During the day, the Supervisor of Elections received a total of eight (8) letters of complaint on behalf of the NDP, all emanating from Equity Chambers, Kingstown, St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The letters of complaints dealt with:
- Slow Voting in Constituency of Central Kingstown
- Slow Voting in Constituency of West St. George
- Slow Voting in Constituency of Marriaqua (First Complaint)
- Slow Voting in Constituency of Marriaqua (Second Complaint)
- Incident at Polling Station F1 – Central Leeward Constituency
- ULP Candidate allowed to remain in Polling Station beyond maximum time — Central Leeward
- Political Campaigning being broadcast on VC3 TV
- ULP Polling Agents canvassing and advising persons on who to vote for
At approximately 2:30 p.m., the Supervisor of Elections received a telephone call from Mr. Arnhim Eustace, Leader of the NDP in which he registered his strong objection to the Electoral Office providing two different Voters’ Lists to the NDP and the ULP outside agents in East Kingstown. It must be noted that the Electoral Office provided two identical sets of Voters’ Lists to both parties on 2nd December, 2015 for distribution to their agents. Mr. Eustace confirmed that the agents on the inside of the polling stations in East Kingstown had the same lists as the Presiding Officers and Poll Clerks. He further stated that he wanted to visit the Supervisor of Elections at her office immediately. I stated that while I was willing to meet with him, I was preparing to leave the office go to Barrouallie to vote in the constituency of Central Leeward where I am duly registered to vote.
About 15 minutes later a group of individuals led by Ms. Vynette Frederick and Mr. Keith Scotland entered the Electoral Office. Among the members of the group were three males who were videotaping the proceedings as well as Ms. Frederick’s brother. Ms. Frederick and Mr. Scotland reiterated the position earlier articulated by Mr. Eustace. I requested that they produce evidence to substantiate their claim; they left promising to return with the same.
I later left the office for Barrouallie in a vehicle driven by my younger daughter along with a police escort who was requested in light of the aggressive nature of the group’s encounter with me. The group never returned to the office that day and the lists were never submitted.
On the evening of Election Day, all fifteen (15) Returning Officers telephoned in the preliminary results for their respective constituencies to the Office of the Supervisor of Elections. Based on the result in the constituency of North Leeward where Mr. Roland Matthews had received 2,259 votes and Mr. Carlos James 2,252 votes, and where there were 20 rejected votes, I informed Mr. Mc Carta Gordon the Returning Officer for North Leeward, that I would join him to conduct the Final Count. The Representation of the People Act (1982) mandates that there must be a Final Count in each constituency commencing at 8:00 a.m. on the day following the Elections.
The Supervisor of Elections consequently journeyed to Chateubelair on the morning of Thursday 10th December to oversee the Final Count in the North Leeward constituency. This final count was witnessed by both candidates and their representatives. When all fifteen (15) ballot boxes were counted, Mr. Matthews had increased his tally of votes to 2,267 and Mr. James to 2,255. The difference between their total votes was 12 after the Final Count as against 07 in the preliminary count.
The Final Count in North Leeward was conducted in a cordial atmosphere and at the end of the day’s proceedings which ended at about 7:30 p.m., both parties expressed satisfaction with the outcome. There was one unfortunate incident involving Ms. Vynette Frederick, one of the representatives for the NDP candidate at the Final Count. Ms. Frederick was granted permission by the Supervisor of Elections to take a photo of one of the ballot boxes from the North Leeward Constituency as they were being taken out for the Final Count. Ms. Frederick later in the day posted on social media the same photograph of the ballot box for polling station NLE1 and captioned it as the alleged missing ballot box for Central Leeward that had been found. When it was brought to my attention and I examined the photograph posted, in the presence of the representatives from both the NDP and ULP, I publicly expressed dissatisfaction with Ms. Frederick for misleading the general public and creating chaos in the country.
During the day while I was based in Chateaubelair, I kept in constant contact with the Returning Officer for Central Leeward, Mr. Winston Gaymes after I was informed that the atmosphere at the Layou Police Station and its environs where the Final Count was being held, was chaotic. The Final Count in Central Leeward ended at about 5:30 p.m. Reports from the Returning Officer indicated that while it was a tedious exercise, both parties in the end accepted the final result. Sir Louis Straker gained 2,497 votes and Mr. Benjamin Exeter 2,184 votes. It is worth pointing that contrary to information that has been circulated on social media- all fifteen ballot boxes were stored at the Layou Police Station on the night of December 9th and were all opened and used in the Final Count on December 10th. All boxes were properly sealed with both the plastic and paper seals in place.
Because of the volatile situation that existed in St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Thursday, 10th December, 2015 I took a decision to delay the transportation and delivery of ballot boxes and other election materials to the Electoral Office until Friday, 11th December, 2015. As a result, the ballot boxes and election materials remained in storage at the police stations on the night of the Final Count. Further, the Electoral Office was closed to the public on Friday, 11th December to facilitate the delivery and storage of the ballot boxes and election materials. By 6 p.m. all the boxes and materials from all fifteen constituencies had been received by the Office of the Supervisor of Elections and stored.
Meanwhile, the Report on the Final Count was prepared by the Supervisor of Elections and emailed to the media as well as to the New Democratic Party and Unity Labour Party at about 10:00 p.m. on Friday 11th December. The Final Count revealed that the Unity Labour Party (ULP) won the poll in 08 of the 15 constituencies while the New Democratic Party (NDP) won in the remaining 07 constituencies (See the Final Counts of Votes issued on 11th December, 2015).
On Saturday, 12th December, I returned to the office at approximately 10:30 a.m. to complete outstanding administrative work; specifically certifying outstanding payments, responding to correspondence and tidying my office space. While at the office, I listened to the Press Conference hosted by the NDP in which alleged voting irregularities in the Central Leeward constituency were highlighted. I therefore contacted the Returning Officer and the Election Clerk and requested an urgent meeting to review the issues raised at the NDP Press Conference. I felt that Sunday afternoon seemed like a convenient time to meet since the meeting could be held in a quiet, uninterrupted setting. Additionally, I needed to be clear on the way forward as the office continued its post-election duties.
The meeting convened just after 1:30 p.m. Almost immediately a crowd gathered, with at least two males who were using video cameras. When the meeting ended at 3:10 p.m., the Returning Officer Mr. Winston Gaymes and the Election Clerk Mr. Clyde Robinson exited the building to be confronted by a hostile crowd. Thanks to the excellent work of the two police officers on duty at the Electoral Office, both gentlemen were safely escorted to their respective vehicles. I stood just outside the doorway of the Electoral Office building observing what was taking place while being subjected to verbal abuse from those persons gathered in front of the building. It was at this time I overheard a female who appeared to be one of the organisers of the protest saying to two male protesters ‘Do not touch her. I will not agree to that’. Not being sure who she was referring to, I telephoned the Commissioner of Police and requested police escort to my home. I also telephoned my brother to drive me home. As I left the building and entered my brother’s waiting vehicle, I was again subjected to more verbal attacks by the protesters who among other things demanded to know why I was at the Electoral Office on a Sunday.
The records will show that since the 7th November, 2015 (the date on which the election date was announced) I have been at the Electoral Office every day until Sunday 13th December- Saturdays and Sundays included. My work day, even on weekends, ran from approximately 8:30 a.m. to as late as 12 midnight on Sunday, 6th December. The full-time staff of the Electoral Office has also worked every day of the week from Monday 9th November to Tuesday 8th December from as early as 7 a.m. to as late as 12 midnight. I hasten to add this also obtained in 2009 for the Referendum as well as for the 2010 General Election.
Also at the office on Sunday 13th December was a young lady hired to clean the Customer Service area and other spaces in the Electoral Office that could not be cleaned on Friday afternoon because of the collection of ballot boxes and election material.
The Office of the Supervisor of Elections wishes to record its profound disappointment with the latest display of disrespect meted out by a small sector of the Vincentian Community, but which nonetheless can do irreparable damage to the high regard in which the Vincentian electoral system has been held since 1951 when the nation conducted its first elections. The Office is committed to free, fair and transparent elections. The Office is equally convinced that when all the facts are known, it will be evident that the allegations which are now being made are based on misinformation and half-truths and untruths.
Sylvia Findlay (Ms)
Supervisor of Elections