OPINION: There can be no “transparent” elections if recount involves ban on cellphones



Stakeholders entering the Arthur Chung Conference Centre for a meeting on the upcoming recount.

The following is an opinion piece submitted by Rakesh Rampertab

In a landmark decision (see Riley v California) by the United States Supreme Court, written by its Chief Justice, Hon John Roberts, the court in 2014 unanimously held that the police must get a warrant in order to search someone’s cell phone.

After all, the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution requires that the “rights of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures,” not be violated.

However, the decision is celebrated for what the court said about the cell phone in relation to people’s physical bodies today, their daily life, and their privacy rights.

Justice Roberts noted that in today’s world, the cell phone is “now such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of the human anatomy.”

The cell phone is no stranger in Guyanese life. It is an integral part of our life and a primary tool for communication and free speech. There can be no “transparent” elections if a recount involves a ban on cellphones. A ban on a cell phone is a gag on free speech during the electoral process.

A free and fair election is, after all, about free speech. One cannot promote free speech when ballots are cast, but then suppress free speech when those very ballots are being counted or recounted. Free speech must be consistent during the entire electoral process, or that process is compromised.

All persons, therefore, should be allowed to have their cell phones during any recount. Having a cell phone implies having a right to use it to enjoy free speech.

Further, in light of the health crisis and a concern for safety, all persons must be able to contact emergency services, their doctors, and their family members in case of any emergency, by having immediate access to their cell phone

Indeed, the safety of all participants in an electoral process including the electorate must be secured. As such, live streaming is likely to bolster everyone’s safety by deterring those with a motive to create confusion that will result in further public injury.

The world already saw public injury, namely one death, street demonstrations, and school children being injured or traumatised. But for the deliberate mischief of certain GECOM individuals, no death would have occurred, no school children hurt or traumatised, no Police Officer injured, and no demonstration by the electorate.

In fact, while persons including a Police Officer can argue that their safety was jeopardised as a result of this “deliberate mischief,” the public is yet to see GECOM employees or officials seeking medical treatment because their safety was compromised by technology.

Finally, those who are responsible for engendering unsafe conditions within and outside of GECOM by use of proxies, have unclean hands and lack both standing and credibility to now speak of safety within the electoral process.

The public and its courts would be on good ground to place an adverse inference against politicians who object to live streaming or cell phone use during a recount. By “adverse inference,” one means that they have something to hide.