By Kurt Campbell
[www.inewsguyana.com] – With talk of elections clouding the atmosphere of homes, offices and market places, Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield has reinforced the seriousness of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) in utilizing automatic ballot scan and tabulation technology in the roll-out of general and local government elections.
Speaking at a reception last evening, at the Official residence of the Canadian High Commissioner, Lowenfield said GECOM is satisfied and believes the technology is “workable” here.
GECOM representatives, Politicians, Canadian Officials and University of Guyana staff and students had gathered to celebrate the recent successful Student Council Elections conducted at UG using the electoral pilot technology provided by Delian – out of Canada.
But according to Lowenfield, the use of the technology which ultimately provides faster and accurate vote tabulation will depend on consultations with all stakeholders.
He recalled the cries of citizens concerning the time it takes to announce the final results despite it being done within the stipulated time frame.
The GECOM CEO along with many others raised concerns surrounding the unavailability of electricity in some areas and the “unreliability” of the Guyana Power and Light (GPL) in others.
Lowenfield said too that GECOM had approached Delian some 24 months ago noting its interest in using the technology and a trip was even made to Wakenaam to develop a “Plan B”.
“If we are to operationalize, blackouts and brownouts would be a primary consideration… some persons based on age have little confidence in things technological… but I am satisfied based on my observations that the system is workable,” he added; explaining that changes will also need to be made with respect to existing laws before the technology can be used.
Meanwhile, UG’s Deputy Vice Chancellor Barbara Reynolds said a 33 percent increase in voting was recorded this year on all campuses.
She believes if the pilot was successful at UG, “with all the hiccups UG has,” then it is easy to suggest that it can be successful at the national level.
Canadian High Commissioner Dr. Nicole Giles reminded that free and fair elections are central to democracy.
“This includes accurate, transparent, and timely elections with verifiable outcomes. Jean-Pierre Kingsley, Chief Electoral Officer for Canada (1990-2007) stated that “It is basic tenet of democracy that election results be released to the public as soon as they are available – and technology has done a lot to make that possible,” Giles said.
She told those gathered that the automated ballot scan and tabulation voting system reinforces this in four key ways:
- Results are tabulated as they are sent in at the close of the polls, resulting in the ability to announce results almost immediately and dramatically reducing the sometimes tense waiting period before results are released.
- The machines offer the comfort of a paper trail (i.e. the paper ballots themselves) should a physical recount be required.
- Tabulation results are sent securely with encryption to the central tabulation centre either by cellular phone, satellite or the internet. This means that statement of polls from even the most remote regions are securely transmitted within minutes of the polls closing.
- Automated ballot scan and tabulation machines can also dramatically reduce the number of spoiled ballots by returning to the voter ballots with unclear markings, thereby counting votes that would otherwise be discarded. This enfranchises voters that may otherwise be disenfranchised.
- A colour-coded and earphone device can be attached to the machines, which allows illiterate or otherwise challenged voters to cast their votes unassisted. Again, this enfranchises voters that would otherwise not be able to cast their ballots themselves.
She applauded the University of Guyana for taking the lead in bringing this technology to Guyana and also thanked the DELIAN Project team for taking the time out of their very busy schedules to come to Guyana to deliver this pilot.