Supervisor of Election Dora James says she was “very disturbed” by an incident in Barrouallie last Wednesday that led to the premature end of the voter registration period.
“As the Supervisor of Elections, I was very disturbed and I didn’t think it should take place,” she said.
On Monday, the registering officer, Vibert Pierre, declined to comment on the incident, saying that he had submitted to the elections chief a “truthful” report of what happened.
Pierre ended the registration when Benjamin Exeter, the opposition New Democratic Party’s candidate for Central Leeward, refused to leave the registration centre.
Exeter said that he had observed registration in the district over the past few years and Pierre had allowed him to sit in the room during registration in Layou, another town in the district.
“… from the report, Mr. Exeter was in the registration centre and he should not have been there,” James told iWitness News.
Citing Pierre, James said that Exeter told the registering officer that he had come to observe the registration process.
“… the registration of our nationals for ID cards, it is a public exercise and that is why it is done in the constituencies,” she told iWitness News, adding that it is done on Mondays and Wednesdays 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
“And because it is a public exercise, it allows for transparency and scrutiny. So anybody, it does not have to be a specific person, you do not have to belong to a particular group, anybody can observe what is happening,” she said.
“There is no barrier. Where the barrier stands is that we do not allow people to come into the room. For the person being registered, they must be allowed their privacy and so nobody, absolutely no one who is not working with the registration process, should be part of that. They should not be sitting in the room,” she said.
The election chief said that there are times when the registering officers, “depending on who they are and what happens” might allow someone to accompany an elderly or ill person into the registration centre.
“But when it comes to observation, it is done purely on the outside. Strictly on the outside.”
James said that the registration process is public because it is “taking place in the public — outside in the public.
“… We go mainly to schools, community centres, sometimes churches, depending on the community and if we can find a space, and everybody is there. It is open. That’s what I mean.”
‘What are you observing?’
James, a retired educator, said that when she took up office in May 2019, she met people observing registration in various constituencies.
“There is a specific constituency where that that goes on weekly. Once the observers get too close so that they can hear people’s information, we ask them to stand back. Outside of that, we have never had an incident as what occurred in Barrouallie.”
iWitness News asked James if it was standard practice that one registrant is allowed in a registration centre at a time and whether that instruction is given to registering officers.
James referred to her earlier statement about persons who might need assistance because of their physical circumstances.
“You might see an elderly person with a supporter, somebody who comes — when I say supporter, a family member who comes in; you might hear somebody who comes in, you might hear somebody who might ask for a seat or whatever.
“But once the registration process is compromised, that is a no-no. Like what happened on Wednesday last, where Mr. Exeter came into the room to sit down,” James said.
Kenton Chance, executive editor of iWitness News, who conducted the interview, noted to James his experience with the registration exercise at the Rillan Hill Community Centre in March, where a number of persons were sitting in the room during the registration period and the layout of the room made provision for persons to sit and wait.
Chance further said that a number of persons came and registered during the period that he was going through the process at the centre.
“So I would have to tell the registering officers — to let them allow people to stay outside. Remind them that they should stay outside.”
James said there are many persons who, for various reasons, don’t want people to know their information.
She suggested that some might be unable to sign their names “and I won’t go down the details.
“We don’t want to embarrass people. People must be private. So it must be a reminder because when you asked me that question, I realise you had an experience and you wanted to nail that in other cases where people come to register, but you must note, too, what you just said that those person came to register.
“Mr. Man didn’t come to register. So if the officers had allowed registrants the opportunity to sit, once they had provided privacy for the registrant as we are doing here, because we don’t speak secret. This is my teacher’s voice.
“But no observer. That is what we are talking about. No observer should be in the vicinity where the registration is taking place – within the space. They can be there but they take their place outside. What are you observing?
“Most time, I have question, they come, they want to see who register. You are going to see who register because you are outside there. We don’t have a backdoor where we bring in other people. You understand? There is one door where they could come in and they would do their registration. So if you want to observe what is happening, you would see all the people who are there.”
iWitness News told James that we could not say why the other persons were in the room during our registration experience but that a number of persons had come and registered during that period.
James reiterated that she would remind the officers that no one, except for the registrant at the time, should be in the room.
She said that as far as she knows, it is possible at all registration centres for persons to observe from the outside.
Exeter said on radio last week that Section 10 of the Representation of the People Act gives him the right to be at the registration centre as long as he is not disruptive.
Asked about what the law says about observing voter registration, James said: “As far as I know, we have nothing in law that says they must come in there to observe.”
iWitness News noted that the question was what, if anything, the law says about observing the registration process.
“I can’t say I see something saying that,” James said.
‘registration for ID cards will not be bullied’
She said that Exeter was disruptive:
“The fact that our registration process had to come to a premature end, it was disruptive. If you come into this space and I said, ‘I can’t accommodate you in this space, can you go outside?’ and you refuse, then there is a disruption.”
iWitness News asked James if it was her understanding that Pierre had previously allowed Exeter to observe the registration process.
“I heard for myself because when Mr. Pierre called me to tell me, I heard what was happening. I couldn’t see, but I heard, and when I heard what Mr. Exeter was saying to him, I asked him and he told me that when he is in Layou, Mr. Exeter came there and although they had some misunderstanding, he allowed him because it was in an open hall and he was away from the registration and he thought he was comfortable registering without an interference by Mr. Exeter.
“And that is what was disturbing. That if Mr. Pierre was so understanding, offer you such protocol to sit in a hall where registration was taking place and he was comfortable that you were away from the entire private process and you get into Barrouallie and there was just a room where he thought that it was not private enough for Exeter to sit in the room, I think he should have been a little bit more understanding and give way so that registration could have been done in the manner in which it could have been done.”
James said she did inquire but does not know if Exeter had ever observed the registration in Barrouallie.
“It was unfortunate and the registration for ID cards will not be bullied,” she said.