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Opposition Leader Godwin Friday, left, and Supervisor of Elections, Dora James. (File photos)
Opposition Leader Godwin Friday, left, and Supervisor of Elections, Dora James. (File photos)
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Supervisor of Elections Dora James has met with the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) to discuss the clean-up of the voters’ list and other electoral matters ahead of the next general elections, constitutionally due by February 2026 but widely expected by the end of 2025.

Opposition Leader  Godwin Friday, who is also president of the NDP, said on Monday that the meeting went on “for a bit longer” than James and her team probably had expected.

“In any event, we discussed a number of things. They wanted to talk about the voters’ list and the continuous process of cleaning up the voters’ list, especially as we are approaching elections,” Friday said. 

The meeting took place at the NDP’s headquarters, Democrat House, on Murray’s Road, Kingstown on Thursday and James was accompanied by two members of her staff.

The other members of the NDP’s team were party chairman and West Kingstown MP, Daniel Cummings, Central Kingstown MP St. Clair Leacock, who is also an NDP vice president, and research officer in the Office of the Leader of the Opposition, Addison “Bash” Thomas.

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He said the NDP wanted to know about the registration process, the voters’ list and how to ensure integrity in the cleanup process “so that people don’t get cut off when they shouldn’t be”.

Friday said that James appeared to have been “more open” than her predecessors, adding that the NDP also met with James’ staff in the lead-up to the November 2020 general elections.

“But this early in the game, I don’t recall that,” he said.

The opposition leader said other people at his office are designated to interact with the supervisor of elections at various levels. 

“But in this case, there was a call to have a meeting, basically to say these are some of the things we were thinking of, the voters’ list being paramount among them, cleaning it up, and so forth, and  it’d be better if we all cooperate to get it done.”

Friday said the NDP has no reason not to ensure that the voters list is accurate.

“That is something that we have to communicate to our people to instil confidence in the system,” the opposition leader said, adding that that confidence “is badly broken now, because of all the mistakes that happened during the 2015 elections. 

“And you saw all the shortcomings in the election process, the lack of willingness to embrace the opposition as essentially an equal part of the process of election preparation, and so forth. It can’t just be a matter for government. Because then our people will feel excluded.”

The NDP brought two petitions challenging the outcome of the 2015 elections in North Windward and Central Leeward, which the High Court dismissed for lack of evidence.

The opposition appealed the ruling but the appeal was not heard ahead of the November 2020 general elections.

Friday said he would raise with the elections chief the matter of the selection of returning officers,  presiding officers and poll clerks, etc.

“They should reflect broadly, people from all political affiliations. And we all know and people say, oh, you know who people vote for, and so forth but that’s crap, you know that,” Friday said.

He said some persons who are very closely aligned to the ruling Unity Labour Party and “make no bones about it …  are the people who find themselves as returning officers, presiding officers, and poll clerks. 

“And there’s no reason, there’s no good reason for that,” Friday said.

He noted that the Supervisor of Elections Office is an independent office under the Constitution.

“… the mechanism for executing an election should not be staffed predominantly by people from the government political party, because then that makes it look like those persons are essentially working for the government, rather than for the electoral office, ensuring that we have free and fair elections.”

Friday said that is how it ought to be.

“I don’t hear of any call when you are, for example, selecting people to become poll clerks and returning officers to say, ‘Listen, apply and then you will have some sort of interview process and so forth, and the most competent people will get the job.’ You just see people showing up and they are there.”

He said that sometimes, people who had been “campaigning with the other candidate” are working in polling stations on election day, “saying that they’re independent.

“These are things that we need to iron out in our system to ensure that there is trust and confidence in it and that the machinery is an important part of that, to ensure that people have confidence in the system.”

Friday recalled an election day when someone went to him in Bequia “almost to tears” asking “‘How come they have so many people inside the polling station and we only have one?’  

The opposition leader said that while the NDP had an agent in the polling station, the person who complained“knew the affiliations of the other persons who were there executing the supervising or managing the election process.”

Friday said these are things that can be changed easily and which he will continue to address with the supervisor of elections. 

But I urged her to continue to reach out to us and we certainly will continue to bring our concerns there and raise some issues there during the registration process on the ground in each constituency,” the opposition leader said.