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The ballot used in the 2015 general election, right, which are contrasted here with those used in 1994. The 2015 ballot does not have a space for the presiding officer's signature. (Photo: NDP)
The ballot used in the 2015 general election, right, which are contrasted here with those used in 1994. The 2015 ballot does not have a space for the presiding officer’s signature. (Photo: NDP)
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The election law in St. Vincent and the Grenadines does not demand that a ballot paper include a space for the official mark of the presiding officer.

Queen’s Counsel Douglas Mendes made this point on Wednesday as he urged the election court not to invalidate the announced victory of his client in the Dec. 9, 2015 general elections.

The main opposition New Democratic Party has brought the petitions challenging the results in Central Leeward and North Windward in the elections, which the officials say the Unity Labour party won by an 8-7 margin.

Mendes told the court that a point it has to determine is how many ballots in Central Leeward did not have the initials and official mark of the presiding officer.

He noted that it was admitted that none of the ballots in polling stations CLF and 99 in CLF1 had the initial and stamp of the presiding officer.

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And issue of fact for the court to determine is whether that applies to CLB, Mendes said.

He, however, argued that the fact that the stamp was on the counterfoil does not make a ballot invalid, adding that the election rule does not include a requirement that a space be provided for the official mark.  

He noted that the ballot papers were stamped. 

However, the judge, Justice Stanley John noted the area where the stamp was placed.

Mendes countered that there is no direction in the regulation as to where to put the stamp, adding that electoral officials come to that conclusion by inference.  

Justice John, however, said that notwithstanding the fact that the rule is silent, the stamp must be placed in such a way that that when the ballot is folded, the official marks are visible. 

Mendes, however, maintained that the law doesn’t say that the official mark must be below the line demarcating the ballot from the counterfoil.

He said that the only instruction as far as that is concerned is the initials of the presiding officer. The lawyer said the purpose of the mark is to ensure that the ballot that the presiding officer receives is the same one that was given to the voter.

Douglas Mendes Sylvia Findlay
Lead counsel in the Central Leeward petition, Douglas Mendes, right, chat with former supervisor of elections, Sylvia Findlay-Scrubb on Feb. 11, 2018, the first day of the trial. (iWN photo)

“If there was specific regulation as to where you put the mark, it would be different but in the absence of a specific direction, on what basis are you going to disenfranchise somebody because you put it in a place where the presiding officer can determine, without invading privacy and, therefore, could determine whether it is a valid ballot? On what basis are you going to deprive somebody of the right to vote if the regulations don’t tell you how it is supposed to be…?” Mendes reasoned.

He said it would be a different story in a case where there was no mark at all.

“But we are talking about the stamp in the wrong place. My lord, in those circumstances, the ballots cannot, respectfully, be invalidated.”

He further told the court that there is no rule that says a ballot cannot be counted if a presiding officer’s initial is not on it.  

There is a regulation that says if you discover during the count that it is not there the presiding officer can initial the ballot.

Justice John, however, noted that some legal decisions say that while the tallying of such ballots may not affect the final result, process is important.  

Mendes noted that Queen’s Counsel Stanley “Stalky” John, lead counsel for Benjamin “Ben” Exeter, the Central Leeward petitioner, had invited the court to overturn the results there because of defective ballots, unavoidable breach of secrecy of the ballot, failure of the respondent to defend the allegation, and the absence of statements of the polls.

Mendes said that assuming that there was no statement of the poll ever created, the rules do not say that a final count cannot take place without it.

“As a matter of fact, the rule says if you don’t have the statement of the polls and you cannot otherwise ascertain the votes, then you adjourn until such time as you can ascertain.”

He said that in that Central Leeward poll there was a count of the ballot.

“There is no doubt about that,” he said, adding that there is no evidence of any contrary count and that Exeter’s own evidence confirms the final count.

“I respectfully submit that either he has not provided his case as a matter of fact, or if he has proved his case, for example, that the ballots were defective, that it does not affect the election and it is not sufficient for you to say the election was a sham or a travesty,” Mendes told the court.

A ruling is expected on March 21.

3 replies on “PETITIONS TRIAL: Law doesn’t demand space for official mark – lawyer”

  1. C ben-David says:

    SVG’s Representation of the People Act (see clearly supports Mendes’ position on each and every one of these issues.

    Though Kenton Chance could have either referred to the Act or quoted from it in his usual impartial journalistic manner, I’m sure most of his readers, especially NDP supporters, would have ignored or been unable to understand the following considerations that the Act clearly stipulates, in spuriously claiming the election was “stolen” by Winston Gaymes and others:

    “15. Ballot papers: (1) The ballot of every voter shall consist of a ballot paper and the names of the persons shown in the statement of persons validly nominated as candidates, and no other person shall be entitled to have his name inserted in the ballot paper.

    (2) A ballot paper shall be in Form 7 in the Appendix and shall be printed in accordance with the directions therein and shall –

    (a) contain the names alphabetically arranged according to surnames and numbered accordingly and other particulars of the candidates as shown in the statement ofthe persons nominated. Opposite to the name of each candidate there shall be printed one of the symbols as are specified in Form 8 in the Appendix which shall be allotted by the Supervisor of Elections;

    (b) be capable of being folded;

    (c) have a space provided on the face of the ballot for the initials of the presiding officer;

    (d) have attached a counterfoil and a stub, and a line or perforations between the ballot and the counterfoil and between the counterfoil and the stub, the whole as in Form 7 in the Appendix.

    16. Official mark: (1) Every ballot paper shall be marked with an official mark, which shall be either stamped or perforated.”

    As Sir James Mitchell has implied, ignorance is our greatest scourge.

  2. What a joke anyone can see that there is enough space for a signature. Personally I almost never sign on the line or in a box I put my signature on the paper and that is always valid in the normal world.

    1. C. ben-David says:

      The law is based on “normal world” experience which is why most normal people with no personal or emotional stake in the outcome of this case would look at it and conclude “much ado about nothing.” Inconsequential breaches of the election act that when factored in or out did not affect the outcome — as took place in these two constituenies — must not be used to overturn the will of the majority of voters.

      The same people who were crying “the election was stolen” would be shouting “the election was free and fair,” if the shoe was on the other foot.

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