The opposition politician whose presence at a voter registration centre forced the premature end to registration last Wednesday says he refused to leave the venue because the registering office could not cite an election rule barring his presence.
The politician, Ben Exeter, the opposition New Democratic Party’s candidate for Central Leeward said that he had been observing the voter registration process in the district without incident “over the last several years”
“… in the past, I was welcomed into the registration station, no problem and I would sit there and observe the process,” Exeter said on Hot FM on Thursday, one day after the incident.
“And to my surprise yesterday, when I walked into the registration office in Barrouallie, Mr. Pierre, the registering officer, told me I had to go outside, I cannot sit inside the room. So I asked him why not and he told me that the rules, the regulations do not permit me to.”
Exeter said he told Pierre that that was odd because he had done so for the last five years. He said he asked about the reason for “the sudden restriction”.
The politician said that the registering officer maintained that it was against the rules.
Exeter said he asked Pierre to cite the rule that barred him from entering the registration station, “which he could not do, obviously”.
Exeter said that out of caution, he spoke to “a couple of our attorneys and they assured me that I’m not breaking any law as long as I am not disruptive during the process, which I was not.
“So then, Mr. Pierre indicated to me that it doesn’t really matter, the rules are the rules — which he couldn’t cite — and I have to leave.
“I said, ‘Listen, I will stay here’ and he indicated to me that if I intend on staying that he could stop the process. I said, ‘You can’t stop the process. You don’t have the authority to stop the process. You are being paid to do a job. Just do the people’s work.’”
Exeter said that at one point Pierre’s phone rang and then he said he was halting the registration for that day.
“And I said, ‘You cannot do that. And if you do, I will document it. The people need to know what’s going on down here’ and he proceeded to pack up his papers – whatever registration documentation he had and at which point I made sure that the room was vacated, there was no one there except for Mr. Pierre and another worker and myself and I put him on record. I said, Mr. Pierre, I have you on video and I am just going to ask you a few questions. Of course, he refused to answer my question and basically that’s it.”
Exeter later published on his Facebook page a video of part of the exchange between him and Pierre.
He said he was appalled that Pierre decided to not register the persons.
“As we know, the ID card is used for many, many purposes. A lady there yesterday was almost in tears because she was waiting to get her ID card to go to, I think, Western Union, somewhere to get a cheque and she was relying on that because Pierre decided he was gonna shut down the process.”
Exeter said he told Pierre that Section 10 of the Representation of the People Act — the election law — clearly gives him the right to observe at the registration centre, as he did not interfere with the process.
“I find it very strange that after all these years of me monitoring, there was no issue, all of sudden it is an issue, without any explanation. And to be told that I cannot be there, after he received a phone call, seems highly suspicious to me,” Exeter said.
Exeter said that someone in a Unity Labour Party campaign t-shirt showed up after Pierre made the call “and tried to school me on the laws of registration process.
“And, of course, I didn’t take him on and I, in turn, asked him, ‘Wait a second, Mr. Pierre. You are trying to evict me from being in this room where I should be, rightfully, yet here is one of the operatives wearing a ULP shirt and it was clearly marked ‘Labour Love’ but yet you allowed him to stay.”
Pierre declined to comment when iWitness News contacted him on Monday, referring us instead to Supervisor of Election, Dora James, to whom he had submitted a report.
James told iWitness News that voter registration is conducted at public venues and persons can observe the registration process from outside.
“As far as I know, we have nothing in law that says they must come in there to observe,” she said.
iWitness News asked what, if anything, the law says about observing the registration process.
“I can’t say I see something saying that,” James said.