The Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) is putting in place systems to host Local Government Elections (LGE) by this year-end, but Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton on Tuesday reiterated that the present voters’ list is “bloated”, and he is calling for it to be “cleansed”.
At a press conference he held, Norton alleged that the Official List of Electors (OLE) used in the 2020 General and Regional Elections has 684,354 names, which is over 91 per cent of Guyana’s total population. However, Mr Norton had been using the 2002 census figures of 744,000, which were taken some 20 years ago. Most UN and other official estimates place our population at around 794,000 today. This would place the voters’ list at 86%, which is also quite high.
However, in August 2019, the High Court had ruled that there can be no “residency requirements” for persons to vote: meaning that once a person is registered to vote, that person’s name cannot be removed from the voters’ list, even if they are overseas or not found at the address where they were registered. Most of the alleged “bloating” comes from Guyanese citizens migrating.
The Coalition Government had appealed this decision, and on 11 Feb 2020, the Court of Appeal upheld the August 2019 High Court decision. As such, it would be unconstitutional to remove persons’ names from the list without an amendment to the Constitution.
Most of our Caricom neighbours have this identical situation, and earlier this year, Barbados voted with a voters list of 266,330 persons which was 87% of its population of 302,674; and St Kitts/Nevis voted with 50,933 on its voters’ list against a population of 54,001, coming in at 94%. Neither had any complaints of “bloated” lists.
“Before any new elections in Guyana, GECOM must respect and address the concerns of all stakeholders, inclusive of the Guyanese public. We remain steadfast in our call for GECOM to implement the necessary improvements — whether statutory, constitutional, technological, or administrative — to ensure elections of the highest standard. In this regard, we stand by our position on the need for a clean voters’ list and biometric identification at polling places,” Norton has contended.
In regard to cleansing of the list, GECOM has already embarked on a process of ‘claims and objections’, a necessary step following its ‘continuous registration’ exercise. Chairman of the Commission, retired Justice Claudette Singh, had posited that the list is not bloated. In fact, she has said that, even if it were, this process would allow for objections to those persons who should not be on the said list.
According to the law, a ‘claims and objections’ period is for persons seeking to make a claim to be included on the list, or make objections to their voter’s information, such as to change their address.
Norton related that APNU/AFC would ask its constituents to participate in the ‘claims and objections’ exercise, while adding that it does not mean the party would agree to go to the polls with the existing list.
“We’re participating because we need to stay on top, get the data to deal with the issues… Participating in this process does not mean that you agree to go to elections with the existing voters’ list,” he told media operatives.
During the ‘claims and objections’ period, any person who would be 18 years and older by October 31, 2022 and is a Guyanese citizen by birth, descent, or naturalisation, or is a citizen from a Commonwealth country living in Guyana for one year or more, can make a claim, on or before September 11, 2022, to be included on the OLE, provided that he/she had never previously been registered.
Persons can also make objections against the inclusion of names in the preliminary list for reasons such as if the person is dead. The claims aspect of the exercise would last until September 11, while the objections aspect would be concluded on September 15.
The Commission is urging all eligible persons to ensure they embrace this opportunity to be registered for inclusion in the Revised List of Electors (RLE) and, ultimately, the Official List of Electors (OLE), in order to be eligible to vote.
At the last LGE in November 2018, the then PPP/C Opposition had secured 52 of the 80 Local Authority Areas (LAAs). This followed the holding of the LGE in 2016, during which the PPP/C also claimed the majority of the LAAs.