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May 14, 2018

San Pedro Election Petition to Court; Elections Chiefs Make Major Admissions

Eamon Courtenay

A first of its kind election petition was heard in the courtroom of Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin today between the slates of the two major political parties, who contested the March election in San Pedro Town.  It pits United Democratic Party incumbent Daniel Guerrero against his People’s United Party rival Andre Perez, as well as the Chief Elections Officer, returning officer for the election Catherine Cumberbatch, and others. Guerrero edged out Perez by only thirty-eight votes in a hotly contested race that looked to be in the P.U.P.’s favor in the early going. But the blue cried foul, alleging multiple irregularities in the handling and reconciling of ballots that, as presented by Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay, constitute reasonable doubt as to the proper conduct of the election. This afternoon, presiding officer Desiree Flowers admitted that she, during reconciliation of ballots, wrote down three hundred and seventy-nine as the number of ballots used instead of three hundred and fifty-nine, an error not witnessed by P.U.P. scrutineer Alex Noralez before he signed off on the document.  But she insisted it was just an error, though could not say why the mistake was made. Perez and his team also claim that as many as two hundred ballots were not accounted for.  But Solicitor General Nigel Hawke forcefully argued to him that he could show no proof of that from the official documents of the Election and Boundaries Department.  Also testifying was Chief Election Officer Josephine Tamai, who oversaw the entire election process. At this hour, returning officer Catherine Cumberbatch is on the witness stand.  The case closed at around six-thirty and attorney Eamon Courtenay provided comments.

 

Eamon Courtenay, Attorney for Abner Perez

“The case was brought by the petitioners, who called their three witnesses to testify, and the case is whether or not the election was conducted in accordance with the Town Council Regulations and the Town Council Act. The witnesses we called, we believe, gave evidence to show, very clearly, that there was non-compliance with the law. A number of these incidents of non-compliance were actually confirmed by the returning officer, Miss Cumberbatch, and by the Chief Elections Officer, and again their witness, Miss Flowers. So what is left now is for us to give submissions to the Chief Justice, and what we will attempt to do in our submissions is to persuade the Chief Justice that the irregularities which we have identified, the irregularities which they have admitted – you heard Miss Cumberbatch tell you that she had to correct a lot of the papers; we had the amazing confession from the Elections and Boundaries Commission that after the elections, they in fact had the ballots and they opened the envelopes and counted the ballots – that is not in compliance with the law. But the point is that all of these irregularities, we say, are sufficient to ask the Chief Justice to say that the elections must be re-held.”

 

Reporter

“Sir, so do you dispute any assertion from any party that this particular petition is frivolous and vexatious?”

 

Eamon Courtenay

“Anyone who says that, I believe, is being politically partisan and not legal, and we are now in the court and not in the political arena.”

 

Reporter

“Sir, can you talk to us about ballot box ‘Ca’ and the two hundred and seventy-five unaccounted ballots?”

 

Eamon Courtenay

“Ballot box ‘Ca’ is one of the most important pieces of evidence. What happened there is that there were six hundred and seventy-five ballots that were made available; I think there were eight hundred and odd voters in that ‘Ca’. At the end of the balloting, they only put on the form four hundred. The question was where was the additional two hundred and seventy-five ballots? What they did – and this was the point we were making to the Chief Justice – what the Elections and Boundaries Commission and Miss Cumberbatch in particular did was they realized this mistake, and simply put on the form, strike out the numbers and add two hundred and seventy-five, change around the numbers and say that is accurate. And I pointed out to Miss Cumberbatch: you can only certify that if you went yourself and checked the actual ballots, and said yes, two hundred and seventy-five ballots are accounted for and then put on the form. She did not do that, and therefore her certificate of correcting it, in our submissions, cannot be relied on. That is just a mathematical correction to try to reconcile what they had on paper. This case is not about mathematics; it’s about the politics and the votes. And the question is, what were in those envelopes with the ballots? She didn’t count them, so she can’t testify to their accuracy.”

 

Reporter

“Sir, when it comes to the Chief Election Officer’s handling of the ballots and taking it to her office, is that proper? Is that correct?”

 

Eamon Courtenay

“I think the regulations are very clear: once those ballots have been counted, the presiding officer should seal the envelopes, hand them to the returning officer in sealed envelopes, and the law is very clear that they should not be opened until and if they are brought to court by an order of the court. And we have the Chief Elections Officer, of her own mouth, saying that she opened them and she counted them. We have now no confidence as to where those ballots are, the status of them, whether they are all accounted for, and that is an issue that we will be addressing the Chief Justice on.”

 

Reporter

“Should they be at her office, as she admitted under cross-examination that they are?”

 

Eamon Courtenay

“They should be in a secure place, whatever she finds to be a secure place. The issue is that they are not to be opened; she opened them, and counted them, and did other things with them, and that is absolutely prohibited by the regulations. And so we will be making submissions to the Chief Justice on that.”

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