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Feb 6, 2008

Chief Elections Officer says all systems are go

Story PictureIn just about twenty-four hours the vast majority of Belize’s one hundred and fifty-seven thousand registered voters will begin to make their way to the nation’s one hundred and forty polling stations. And while the parties and candidates say they’re ready, there is a bit less certainty about the preparedness of the non partisan machinery that will actually run the election. This afternoon News Five’s Janelle Chanona met with Acting Chief Elections Officer Ruth Meighan for an update.

Janelle Chanona
“If you had to put a percentage on it where are you as far as preparedness today?”

Ruth Meighan, Acting Chief Elections Officer
“I would say a hundred percent, we are doing our final distribution of supplies to our returning officers and workers today so basically we are fully prepared and they are now going out to their different stations to do their final preparations.

Janelle Chanona
“Looking at your machinery, when do you expect that you’d have a decision in the General Elections?”

Ruth Meighan
“I would say because these are officers who have conducted elections before that we, that it shouldn’t be delayed in any way and I expect maybe by ten, eleven, depending on how much candidates and how much electors turn out that we should have a count for the polling station. You know some of them are delayed a little bit but I do believe we shouldn’t be delayed too far.”

Janelle Chanona
“So you’re predicting before midnight?”

Ruth Meighan
“I’m assuming that, I’m predicting that it’ll happen before midnight.”

Janelle Chanona
“For first time voters especially and just for general information what would be the most important piece of information you would like to remind voters of for tomorrow.”

Ruth Meighan
“If you have your voters’ id it speeds up the vprocess so the could carry it but that in no way affects them as long as they are registered from voting. What I would say to them is that we have good public officers working and the office is here if they have any question they could call and we’ll be pleased to help them.”

Janelle Chanona
“Ms. Meighan, I know this office has been taking hits of late, especially from the Opposition accusing maybe that you are not asserting yourself in this job and that Mrs. Palacio has been manipulating in some regards. What is your response to those critics, those criticisms?”

Ruth Meighan
“I don’t know what kind of manipulation can happen as such. I am here acting as the Chief Elections Officer and I have taken up that position. Mrs. Palacio has a lot of experience running an election and she is my immediate supervisor and as such, that is the reason why she’s here. But what the media or the politicians are saying out there really, as long as we conduct a clean, fair election, that is what is important and no one will be disenfranchised and that is what I’m all about.”

Janelle Chanona
“Regarding the cell phones, what is the decision, what should the public know about carrying those devices?”

Ruth Meighan
“The Elections and Boundaries Department has had no directive in response to the issue of cell phones and whether we should ban the cell phone from the polling station. I do know and I’m going to say it again that there has been concerns and a decision has been made by the Elections and Boundaries Commission but no directive and the Chief Elections Officer is in no way questioning the authority of the Elections and Boundaries Commission as it relates to regulating the elections process. We have had no directive to ban cell phones within the polling station and that is where we stand with that.”

Janelle Chanona
“So up to this point I can take my cell phone in…”

Ruth Meighan
“That is what is happening as we speak. There has been no directive from the Elections and Boundaries Commission and if it is so, and you can clarify this if you wish, that it has to be legislated and until the Commission makes a decision and puts something in writing to effect that then the department does nothing with respect to banning cell phones from the polling stations.”

Late this evening the Government’s legal advisor, Gian Ghandi, confirmed to News Five that Prime Minister Said Musa has signed a statutory instrument banning the USE of cell phones inside polling stations. According to Ghandi, the new law is based on Hong Kong legislation and reads as follows:

“No person shall, on polling day, within a polling station and without the express permission of the polling officer:
1. Use a mobile telephone, paging machine or any other device for electronic communication…
2. Film or take photographs or make audio or video recordings of anything.

Every person who contravenes this rule commits an offence and shall be liable to a fine not exceeding five hundred dollars or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or both.”

In essence, the new rule is that you can take your cell phone into the polling station. No one will search you, but don’t use it. Best advice is to just turn off your phone before entering the polling station.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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