The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not represent the opinions or editorial position of I-Witness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].
This article was first published on “Firm Meditation” on Dec. 23, 2015.
Eight questions in the quest for eight seats
Disclaimer: I’m about to accuse Arnhim Eustace and his closest followers of not having a single shred of evidence of election fraud or election error sufficient to call into question the results of the 2015 elections in SVG. It’s worth repeating that I am one of the individual candidates declared victorious in the elections, and that my party has been officially announced as the winner of the elections. So feel free to consider the source and accuse me of bias. But the same is true for Eustace. He was an active participant with a huge stake in the outcome. Feel free to accuse him too, as I am about to do.
Another General Elections in SVG, another Eustace claim of massive fraud. Another vote tallied in SVG, another declaration of victory by the defeated party. Another poll concluded in SVG, another demonisation of the sitting Supervisor of Elections.
Back in 2010, the post-election headlines were eerily similar to this year’s:
“OPPOSITION LEADER CRIES FOUL: Eustace: We will not accept this election result” (Searchlight 17th December)
“EUSTACE: ‘2010 ELECTIONS NOT FAIR’” (Vincentian 17th December)
“UNFAIR ELECTIONS ROB VINCENTIANS OF A BRIGHTER FUTURE, SAYS EUSTACE” (The News)
“VINCENTIANS ‘CHEATED OUT OF A BRIGHT FUTURE,’ OPPOSITION LEADER SAYS” (I-Witness News 15th December)
Want more details? Click below on this helpful graphic:
And, ‘lest we forget, Eustace also refused to concede the 2005 General Elections as well. It’s true. So while some people are claiming Eustace has led his party to four consecutive defeats at the polls, he may have a different view of things. Based on his refusal to concede the 2005, 2010 and 2015 general elections, maybe he thinks that he only lost one contest (2001), but was cheated out of the next three. Why did he accept the 2001 results, you ask? Well, because he was Prime Minister at the time, obviously! It’s hard to accuse the ULP of stealing the elections when NDP the government running the elections. But, to hear Eustace tell it, every single election that has occurred under the ULP has been a theft.
Now don’t get me wrong: Elections are useless if they are not free and fair, or if they do not reflect the will of the people. If Eustace and the NDP could produce any serious evidence of fraud, cheating, conspiracy, skullduggery or usurping the will of the electorate, I will join them on the picket line. Seriously. We are participating in a democratic contest, and that contest has rules, and everyone must abide by them. The fundamental rule is that the people get to choose their representatives and their government, that every eligible voter gets one vote, and that the candidate with the most votes wins. I believe deeply in those principles. Any mature democracy must follow its election rules.
But, the flip side is that democratic elections produce winners and losers, and that any mature democracy must have losing parties and candidates that accept the results of the elections and the will of the people. Accepting the results of elections is widely regarded as a key principle of democracy, because:
“For democracy to work, everyone must agree to accept the results of freely held elections. The people and parties who have lost power, or those who failed to gain it, must be willing to accept defeat. If the loser refuses to accept the winner, the election’s legitimacy is diminished and the political system may be marked by conflict and instability.”
Given Eustace’s history of crying wolf every election but failing to substantiate his claims, you’ll forgive me for being more than a little skeptical of his allegations this time around. In 2010, after famously promising to being election petitions, criminal charges and civil claims, the NDP never bothered the Court’s Registrar. This time around, Eustace still hasn’t said he’s filed an election petition or any challenge to the legitimacy of the contest. He still has time, but we’re already two weeks past Election Day. The clock is ticking.
[Note: As I write this posting, the Midweek Searchlight is reporting on a court filing by the NDP. I’ll comment more on that filing later. It’s enough to say now that it is NOT an election petition, and that it does NOT seek to invalidate the poll results. As I understand it from the newspaper, the NDP has asked the Court to (1) take the ballot boxes away from the Supervisor of Elections, and (2) grant permission for the NDP to examine all of the individual counterfoils and ballots from Central Leeward. This is what lawyers call a “fishing expedition.” It is an admission by the NDP that they do not have enough evidence to bring a case, so they’re asking the Court for permission to root around in the ballot boxes in search of evidence that will match their theory of election fraud. Additionally, they are asking the Court to take the unprecedented step of allowing a political party to destroy the secrecy of the ballot to identify each individual voter and the vote cast by that voter. Imagine! A party telling the Court: “we don’t have a firm case at the moment, but if you let us check the names of every voter and who they voted for, I’m sure we can come up with something.” More on this in a later post.]
The big problem facing any NDP challenge to the election results is the sheer margin of the ULP’s victory. Although the ULP only managed to win the same 8 of 15 seats it won last time, it clinched those eight seats by much larger margins. The ULP won two seats by over 300 votes, two by over 550 votes, one by over 600 votes, two by over 750 votes, and one (the Prime Minister’s) by over 2,200 votes.
The ULP’s average margin of victory in the seats it won was over 770 votes. Even if you throw out the PM’s bastion as an outlier, it still clinched the other seven seats by an average of over 550 votes apiece. On mainland St. Vincent, the ULP defeated the NDP by 4,954 votes and a commanding 54% to 46% margin, with the vote and seat count only made closer by the Grenadines – which the James Mitchell administration unconstitutionally (imho) split from one seat to two. Nationally, the ULP defeated the NDP by 5% and doubled its margin of victory from the 2010 election.
A lot can be written about the 8-7 divide in SVG. But for the purpose of this post, we can agree that the numbers say that this election wasn’t nearly as close as the 2010 contest. Even if you accept the NDP’s best case allegation of 320 illegal votes in Central Leeward (more on that later), the NDP still loses the popular vote by almost 3,000 votes. In their best-case, the NDP would form an 8-7 government with a minority of the national votes; one seat won by 6 votes; and another by 12 votes. Hardly a mandate to govern.
The heart of the matter…
But let’s get to the meat of the NDP’s allegations of fraud, as I understand them. The allegations focus on the Central Leeward constituency, which the Supervisor of Elections says that the ULP won by 6.7% [53.2% vs 46.5%] or 313 votes. The NDP is claiming a six-vote victory in that constituency (now seven votes, based on the final count), based on a whopping 320 illegal votes cast in the town of Barrouallie alone.
I have listened closely to all of the allegations that have been made by the NDP and Arnhim Eustace. And they’re all laughable. I am also aware that Eustace has said he would like to fully detail his allegations, but that “it is not wise from a legal perspective.” In other words, he is accusing the Government of fraud, calling his supporters onto the streets, and giving Vincentian democracy a black eye based on evidence that only he knows.
But let’s address some of what has come out to date. One question at a time.
QUESTION #1. Why does the NDP think that they won Central Leeward by six votes?
Ah, the election-night rumour that the NDP had won Central Leeward by six votes. A rumour accepted as fact by the NDP, and a rumour that forms the basis of all of their fraud allegations. How did that come about?
The answer is almost comically bad. It takes us back to Barrouallie, more specifically, Polling Station B, which is at the Barrouallie Police Station.
On election night, there were at least three people in each Central Leeward polling station whose job was to monitor the vote count to report back to their respective bosses. One was the Electoral official, one was a ULP agent, and one was an NDP agent. All three of them (and a couple police officers, and maybe a few international observers) watched as the votes were counted. As soon as the preliminary count was finished they grabbed their mobile phones and called in their results to the Supervisor of Elections, the media, the ULP HQ and the NDP HQ, so that everyone could update their running totals.
On election night, the results from Polling Station B were ULP: 116 votes. NDP 122 votes. The NDP agent – let’s call her Jane Doe – called into the NDP HQ to report the results of that Polling Station. The conversation probably went something like this:
“Hi, this is Jane Doe, calling in from Central Leeward. Is this NDP HQ?”
“Yes, this is NDP HQ. EVERYONE BE QUIET! I HAVE CENTRAL LEEWARD ON THE PHONE!. . . Do you have a result to report?”
“Yes, I do. We won by six votes.”
“Excuse me? Can you repeat that?”
“Yes. We won by six votes.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. I am right here at the polling station. Six vote margin.”
“OH PRAISE THE LORD! WE WON CENTRAL LEEWARD BY SIX VOTES!! WE DID IT!!” [Pandemonium ensues. Champagne bottles pop. Back slapping begins. Ben Exeter does one of his groovy dances.]
That’s what happened, more or less. An agent called in to report a six-vote NDP victory at one polling station, and it was misinterpreted as a six-vote victory constituency-wide. Since I was on the inside of the ULP HQ, I immediately dismissed the NDP declarations of a six-vote victory because it was made when votes were still being counted in other polling stations. You can declare victory with boxes still uncounted if you’re winning by a mile. You can’t do it if you have a six-vote lead.
This is the sort of thing that happens on election night. In my own constituency, the person manning the phone at ULP HQ told me that I won Polling Station A1 in Enhams by a score of 226 to 66. The office was ecstatic. I immediately told them that that info had to be wrong. Last election, we’d won the box by 51 votes. What could explain a 160 vote victory this time? My team called me unduly pessimistic. They said it was a reflection of a massive ULP victory, of my own popularity, etc. They kept that 160-vote tally on the board until the bitter end, when the Supervisor of Election’s numbers said that ULP won the box by 60 votes, not 160. Maybe if I’d lost the seat I’d be viewing that 100-vote reduction with suspicion. But I doubt it.
The day after the elections, ULP supporters, almost to a man, thought that Luke Browne lost to Eustace by 24 votes and the Jomo Thomas lost to Nature by 18 votes. Up to today, I have been correcting people on these points. The truth is that Luke lost by 149 votes and Jomo by 118. Are these 100+ vote ‘changes’ a reflection of incompetence or fraud by the Supervisor of Elections? Of course not. Just proof of how inaccurate rumours can spread on election night.
Anyway, the myth of the NDP’s six-vote victory in Central Leeward has permeated all of the other claims of fraud. Since they thought they won by six votes, but the preliminary results said that they lost by 314 votes, they assumed that 320 votes were fraudulent. That 320 votes is now the Holy Grail that the NDP seeks to overturn the Central Leeward result. [Am I the only one who finds it interesting that the NDP’s Court filing can’t pinpoint specific evidence of fraud, but they’ve already decided conclusively that 320 votes were illegally cast?]
All because of a misunderstood election night phone call. I kid you not.
QUESTION #2. Could the ULP have stolen (or stuffed) a ballot box to give them victory in Central Leeward?
In a word: No.
Let’s think this one through: According to the ballot box conspiracy theorists, the NDP won Central Leeward by 6 votes, and then the ULP either snatched a ballot box or stuffed one to steal the victory.
The first huge problem with that argument is that all ballot boxes are present and accounted for.
The second problem with that argument is that some NDP agent somewhere (plus some police and electoral officials) would have mentioned a missing box.
The third, and most significant problem is that no one box – stuffed or stolen – could produce a 320 vote swing.
Check this out: The three biggest margins of victory in any individual Polling Stations in Central Leeward are 81 votes (E1, Layou), then 75 votes (D, Barrouallie), then 57 votes (H, Buccament Bay). In the last elections, those margins were 62, 45 and 104, respectively.
So, across the three biggest boxes in 2010, the ULP margin was 211 votes. Across the same boxes this year it was 213 votes. Stop me when you see signs of massive fraud.
There is, and has never been, a single box that could produce a 320 vote swing in Central Leeward. Most of the Polling Stations didn’t even have a total of 320 voters, much less a margin of 320. The most voters in any Central Leeward polling station this election was the 385 voters in Polling Station A. Unless Exeter actually won that station by a margin of 353 to 32, there can be no stuffed/stolen box conspiracy that will stick.
QUESTION #3. What about the theory that there are 320 illegal votes across not one, but TWO polling stations?
This theory comes straight from the mouth of Eustace, who said that “first of all, there were over 320 illegal voted cast in the constituency of Central Leeward alone. . . and that is only in two polling stations.”
OK. Let’s look at that.
One of the polling stations where Eustace alleges fraud is polling station A1, where he falsely claims 100% of the registered voters turned up (more on that later). The other is also in Barrouallie, but I’m not sure which one. There are a total of seven polling stations in Barrouallie.
So if we are to believe Eustace, there are 320 illegal votes cast between Polling Station A1 and some other Barrouallie polling station.
It is laughably implausible. And I’ll show you why.
First, there were 2,119 votes cast in Barrouallie. 320 illegal votes in Barrouallie would be 15% of all votes cast. That’s tough to swallow. But Eustace says that the the 320 votes were cast in “only two polling stations”!!!
So let’s do the math:
The two biggest polling stations in Barrouallie are A and A1. In 2015, 728 people voted at those two stations. If you believe Eustace, 320 of those 728 votes were illegal. That would be 44% of all votes cast!! If you use any other two boxes in Central Leeward, the percentage is even higher.
How on God’s green earth could anyone in our electoral system manage to pull off a scam where almost half of the total votes cast were illegal?
But wait, there’s more.
If there were 320 illegal votes cast in two boxes in Central Leeward, you would expect to see an overall spike in the number of voters, right? Meaning that the legitimate voters would continue to vote, PLUS the additional 320 illegal votes, right?
So let’s look:
See that? There are no two polling stations in Barrouallie (or anywhere else in Central Leeward for that matter) where the number of votes cast has increased by 320 votes over 2010.
In 2010, 117 more people voted in all of Barrouallie than in 2005.
In 2015, 82 more people voted in all of Barrouallie than in 2010.
Natural constituency growth. But let’s be generous. Let’s say that every single new Barrouallie voter in 2015 was an illegal ULP voter. No new voters, no transfers, nobody turning 18 over the last five years. Let’s strike out all of those 82 new Barrouallie voters as illegal.
The NDP still loses by 231 votes.
Let’s go even further:
In 2010, a total of 4,430 people voted in Central Leeward. In 2015, that number grew to 4,697. That’s a total difference of 267 voters, constituency-wide, over five years.
Where are the additional 320 illegal voters in Central Leeward?
Let’s assume again, that every single one of the 267 of the new voters since the last election is illegal. Those 267 votes would be deleted from the count.
The ULP would still win the seat by 46 votes.
Eustace’s allegation of 320 illegal votes in two Central Leeward polling stations is a mathematical impossibility, unless the ULP was simultaneously intimidating, kidnapping or assassinating legitimate voters from previous elections.
QUESTION #4. What about the allegation that 100% of registered voters at a polling station turned up to vote? That would be suspicious, right?”
It would be suspicious if it were true. Very suspicious. But it’s simply false.
Again from the mouth of Eustace:
“believe it or not, in CLA1 – that’s the polling station, 100 per cent of the people on the list voted. Where you can ever hear that? When you get 65 per cent or 70 per cent voting in a polling station, you figure you are doing pretty well. But to have 100 per cent of the votes being cast of those persons in the list is really a very serious matter. It can’t happen that 100 per cent of the people will turn out to vote.”
But let’s take a look at the facts:
The list of registered voters in Central Leeward – issued before the elections – shows a total of 443 voters listed at Polling Station A1. You can check it yourself. Then, the preliminary count shows that 343 of those 443 people voted.
Then, at the final count – at which all of the NDP lawyers and Eustace and Exeter were present – reconfirmed that 343 people voted at Polling Station A1.
343 out of 443 is not 100%. It’s 77%. That 77% is only slightly higher than the national average of 73% voter turnout for the 2015 elections. There is absolutely nothing remarkable about the turnout at Polling Station A1.
Why won’t someone ask Eustace if he and his team were present at the recount? And then ask them how many ballots were counted at polling station A1? Are the preliminary and final counts a lie? Is someone hiding an extra hundred votes?
I don’t believe that Eustace is a naked, boldfaced liar. I believe that, at some point, he really thought that there were 100% votes cast at that polling station. But it’s not true. What I believe is that somewhere, someone has some piece of paper where someone inadvertently wrote in “443” in the “votes cast” column instead of the “registered voters” column. And I believe that Eustace saw that piece of paper and came to his false conclusion.
But this is simple to solve. Look at the final pre-election voter’s list. See how many people were registered to vote at Polling Station A1 (443). Look at the final count. See how many actually voted (343). Is it 100%? (No.) Good. Let’s move on.
QUESTION #5. There is a photo online of an unsealed ballot box. Unsealed ballot boxes are bad, right?
Let’s go back to Eustace’s own words, as reported by I-Witness News: “I can also say that none. . . of those [ballot] boxes were sealed.”
Now let’s go to the statement of the Supervisor of Elections:
“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.”
I’m not sure what I can add to this.
The Supervisor of Elections says the boxes were sealed. I believe her. There is no evidence to the contrary. To unseal the boxes would involve a massive conspiracy involving Electoral Office staff, the police, the ULP observer AND the NDP observer, not to mention (possibly) the international observers who would have noticed that at least some of the boxes were unsealed. In any event, the math says that there was no ballot box stuffing (see above).
This one is just not true.
QUESTION 6. But on the Sunday after the election, the Supervisor of Elections was seen in her office!! With the Returning Officer from Central Leeward!! THAT’s a smoking gun, isn’t it?
This has got the be the silliest of the silly fraud allegations. I’ll let the Supervisor of Elections handle this one herself:
“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. . . 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.
Now I have a couple questions:
QUESTION #7. If the ULP is so cunning as to quickly take a six vote loss to a 313 vote victory, why didn’t they just go ahead and swing the North Leeward, South Leeward and/or East Kingstown seats?
The ULP lost three seats — North Leeward, South Leeward and East Kingstown — by a grand total of just 279 votes.
Think about that.
The NDP is asking me to accept a reality where the ULP fraud machine can manufacture 320 illegal votes in two polling stations, but can’t produce 280-odd votes across three whole constituencies?
It would have been better, and easier, for the ULP to give Central Leeward to the NDP and focus their alleged ballot box stuffing on East Kingstown, North and South Leeward. It would have required fewer illegal votes, raised less suspicion, and it would have produced a 10-5 election result instead of an 8-7 outcome.
Can the ULP be at once so clever to circumvent all of the safeguards in Central Leeward but so stupid as to not focus their energies on the NDP’s marginal wins?
The ULP lost North Leeward by a scant 12 votes. In that seat, neither candidate got 50% of the vote [49.97% vs 49.70%]. In some countries’ voting systems, the mere failure of anyone to reach the 50% mark would trigger a second round of voting.
But I digress. If the ULP can conjure up 300+ illegal votes through their well-oiled fraud machinery, how hard would it be to stuff an additional 15 or so illegal ballots into the North Leeward boxes? Or simply remove that many NDP votes from the ballot boxes?
It’s important to remember that the preliminary vote count had the ULP candidate in North Leeward losing by six votes. The ballot boxes were then stored overnight and recounted the next day. At the next day’s recount, after having a whole night to commit election fraud, the ULP loss actually widened, from 6 votes to 12.
What am I supposed to take from that? That the ULP had fraudsters in place in Central Leeward but not the neighbouring constituency of North Leeward? That the fraud team was so busy stuffing ballot boxes in Barrouallie that they couldn’t make it over to Fitz Hughes? That the North Leeward boxes were actually stuffed by NDP operatives, hence the overnight change in favour of Patel Matthews?
QUESTION #8. Where were the NDP agents when all this Central Leeward fraud was taking place?
The preliminary vote count on the night of the Central Leeward election said that the ULP won the seat by 314 votes. For the entire Election Day — from the time the polls opened to the time the first vote was cast to the time that the last vote was counted — there was a trained NDP agent in each polling station observing the proceedings. There were also police officers, electoral officials, and ULP observers. Independent international observers, from CARICOM, the OAS and The Commonwealth were also stopping by regularly. Both candidates, Straker and Exeter, no doubt also dropped in many times during the day.
But let’s focus on the NDP observers, and the timeline of the alleged fraud.
The most important fact that we have to keep in mind is that the preliminary count on election night said that ULP won Central Leeward by 314 votes. That means that a process of voting and counting that took place in full view of the NDP agents, produced a preliminary result of a 314 vote ULP victory.
It’s not like the preliminary count declared an NDP victory, and then the following day a different result was reached. If that had happened, the NDP could claim that something fishy happened overnight when no one was looking. But no. The vote that was conducted and counted in full view of NDP agents produced this result.
So any fraud — ballot box stuffing or stealing, ballot mutilation, forgery, etc. — would have to take place in front of NDP agents.
Were they sleeping? Was the ballot stuffing so skilfully done that they didn’t notice?
And at what point, precisely, did this fraud take place? According to theMidweek Searchlight, Ben Exeter may be suggesting that the fraud happened during a 45-minute period after the polls closed when he stopped receiving updates on the vote count from various polling stations. According to Exeter, he was receiving regular updates from polling stations that had him ahead in the count, then people stopped calling for 45 minutes, and next thing he knew, he was down 314 votes.
Help me to work this through:
Is Exeter suggesting that the ULP saw they were losing, and thus mobilised their fraud machine, which managed to produce 320 illegal votes, in the space of 45 minutes, and in full view of paid NDP and international observers?
Really? Is that even possible?
The conspiracy involved would be massive. Even if it was just two polling stations, you’re talking about four or five police officers, about 10 electoral officials, a couple ULP observers (just ‘cuz they support the ULP doesn’t mean they’d participate in a criminal conspiracy) and, of course the NDP observers. And they’d all have to keep their mouth shut forever.
I caught the SVG TV news a couple nights ago, and watched Eustace suggesting darkly that NDP agents may have been “compromised.” Is that how far he is willing to go to create a scenario that excludes himself from blame?
A scenario where, in a 45-minute window, secret ULP operatives swoop in, bribe the police, the electoral officials, the ULP observers and even NDP observers; then introduce 320 pro-ULP illegal ballots in two polling stations; count those illegal ballots in full view of international observers; then recount them the next day in front of NDP lawyers, the NDP candidate, and a different set of police officers? A scenario where this 45-minute electoral heist is done with such precision and forethought that those 320 illegal votes blend in seamlessly with legally-cast votes? A scenario where the deceitful ULP accidentally stuffs one ballot box past 100% capacity, but then miraculously corrects the problem by removing 100 ballots, and still manages to inexplicably make the final numbers add up to the same preliminary numbers?
Possibly… Call me crazy… But maybe… Just maybe… The NDP lost the election.
The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].