The ballot boxes used in the December 2015 general elections feature in the appeal that the two petitioners have filed against the decision of the High Court to dismiss the petitions.
In a March 21 ruling, acting High Court Judge, Stanley John dismissed the petitions filed by Benjamin “Ben” Exeter and Lauron “Sharer” Baptiste of the main opposition New Democratic Party challenging the election of Sir Louis Straker and Montgomery Daniel of the Unity Labour Party (ULP) as the parliamentary representatives for Central Leeward and the Northern Grenadines.
The ballot boxes used in the election formed a major plank of both petitions as plastic ballot boxes, without locks and keys were used.
Sylvia Findlay-Scrubb, who was supervisor of elections at the time of the vote, testified during the trial that the law had envisaged the use of wooden ballot boxes with lock and keys, rather than the plastic ones with tie straps used in the poll.
However, Justice John ruled that it was too late to complain about the plastic ballot boxes and further ruled that except for bias on the part of Winston Gaymes, the returning officer for Central Leeward, he had found no evidence in support of the petitioners’ cases.
However in a petition filed on April 30, Exeter’s lawyers argue that Justice John erred in law and fact by holding that the elections were conducted in substantial compliance with election law, in spite of the pleaded and established defects with respect to the ballot boxes.
Exeter’s lawyers argue that some of the ballot boxes used in Central Leeward were never sealed with the plastic zip ties on the top flap but rather only four zip ties were affixed, one at each of the four sides of the ballot boxes.
They said that all of the ballot boxes were in fact plastic bins with completely detachable covers and there were no hinges affixing the covers to the ballot boxes.
The appeal says that the judge ruled as he did although none of the ballot boxes carried locks and could not be locked with a key and there was a large slot at the top of all ballot boxes which could admit several ballots papers at once instead of a slot which can admit no more than one ballot at a time, thereby compromising the integrity of the ballot boxes and the elections.
“There was no transparency regarding the serial number of plastic ties issued to the presiding officers and no serial numbers of plastic ties were recorded after alleged sealing; all plastic ties could be easily cut off and replaced and because the serial numbers were not recorded it would be untraceable,” he appeal said.
It further stated that none of the boxes was labelled and sealed with paper seals that could not be tampered without leaving a trail.
“Instead, a plastic adhesive label was placed on part of the top of the boxes which could not admit proper signatures of agents and officials and which could be peeled off and replaced and/ or re-applied easily without leaving a trace, thereby compromising the integrity of the entire elections”.
In the case of the North Windward petition, Baptiste’s lawyers raised points similar to those of Exeter.
In holding that the elections were conducted in substantial compliance with election law, the learned judge plainly erred in fact and law relative to his evaluation of the pleaded and established defects with respect to the ballot boxes as follows:
They further added that one ballot box — used at NWD — was never sealed at all and when questioned, the Returning Officer, Ville Davis, said the official did not know what she was doing and he was in a rush so he took the box unsealed.
In the appeal, Baptiste’s lawyer further argued that Justice John had ruled as he did although one of the ballot boxes used in North Windward could not be sealed on top at all because the place to put the plastic seal was broken.