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May 15, 2018

Will C.E.O.’s Blunder Lead to New Election in San Pedro Town?

It was one of those rare court cases that didn’t wrap up when the courts normally close at five o’clock. But that’s not even the most unusual thing about the case of Andre Perez and others versus Daniel Guerrero and others along with Catherine Cumberbatch and the Attorney General. Perez and Guerrero were the two mayoral candidates for the March seventh municipal election in San Pedro Town, which Guerrero won. But Perez and his colleagues say they were denied victory due to various miscalculations and errors that put them at a disadvantage. In court, Chief Elections Officer Josephine Tamai acknowledged that she personally unsealed the envelopes containing the ballots from the election, which had been stored at the Central Bank. She says it was by way of looking at the evidence for the case, but it could turn out to be a major plank of the reason why a new election can be held. News Five’s Aaron Humes revisits Monday’s statements in the following report.

 

Santos Acosta

Santos Acosta, Protestor [File: May 14th, 2018]

“If law prevails and that is what we expect, we should get the court to make a recall of the election. That is what our legal team is asking for; an [annulment] of the past election because we found a lot of improprieties, let’s call it that, and because of that San Pedro went to the red, when it was supposed to be blue.”

 

Aaron Humes, Reporting

Among those “improprieties” is a surprising admission by Chief Elections Officer Josephine Tamai on the witness stand on Monday, that sometime in the months after the March seventh election, she personally oversaw counting of the ballots from San Pedro at her Belize City office. If so, it constitutes a grave error on her part and, says Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay, attorney for P.U.P. mayoral candidate Andre Perez, casts a long shadow of doubt over the disputed election.

 

Catherine Cumberbatch

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, Attorney for Andre Perez [File: May 14th, 2018]

“I think the regulations are very clear: once those ballots have been counted, the presiding officer should seal the envelopes, hand [the ballots] 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 which 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

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.”

 

Also of concern, according to Courtenay, is the treatment of Box ‘Ca’, from which arises the mysterious missing two hundred and seventy-five ballots, which has been played down by the other side as a ‘mathematical error.’ Courtenay says it is more than that.

 

Eamon Courtenay [File: May 14th, 2018]

“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.”

 

But the other side, led by Estevan Perrera, is not fazed.

 

Reporter

“Do you think that this particular petition is frivolous?”

 

Estevan Perrera

Estevan Perrera, Attorney for United Democratic Party [File: May 14th, 2018]

“Yes, I do believe it’s frivolous, and I believe that anybody who looks at the actual petition and the numbers contained therein will recognize that there is an obvious error, an oversight in terms of minor miscalculations that were later remedied, and that it’s not sufficient enough for a court to set aside an entire election based on the facts or the position presented in that petition by the petitioners.”

 

Reporter

“How do you view the returning officer’s position that she did not verify, ballot by ballot, to reconcile, and that she simply calculated based on what her presiding officers were noting on the forms and the documents they were working with?”

 

Estevan Perrera

“That statement you just said, in terms of a question – that actually speaks for itself. Because that’s exactly our position. We’re saying that the purported errors are so minor, that by simply looking at the forms one can actually make those corrections and recognize where the little errors were made on the actual forms, and there was no need to go back to the actual ballots.”

 

Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.

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