By Nelson A. King
The main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is continuing its long battle to overturn the results in the Dec. 9, 2015 general elections in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
While the incumbent Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration of Prime Minister Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves was returned to office, with a slim 8-7 majority, the NDP claimed that the elections were fraudulent, particularly in two constituencies — North Windward and Central Leeward.
After a recent town hall meeting, at the Friends of Crown Heights Educational Center in Brooklyn, led by NDP leader Dr. Goodwin Friday, accompanied by two opposition senators, including Kay Bacchus-Baptiste, a lawyer, Bacchus-Baptiste made available to Caribbean Life a petition, about the Central Leeward poll, submitted to the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court.
The petition identifies Benjamin Exeter, who contested the elections for the NDP, as the petitioner, against Sir Louis Straker, the ULP victor in the elections and current Deputy Prime Minister, as one of the respondents.
The other respondents are Winston Games, returning officer; Kathleen Jeffries, presiding officer; Sylvia Findlay-Scrubb, supervisor of elections; and the Attorney General of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“The aim of these submissions is to demonstrate that based upon the entirely contradictory evidence at best or blatant falsehoods at least, emanating from the Supervisor of Elections, Sylvia Findlay-Scrubb and contradictory evidence of the Returning Officer Winston Gaymes, it is necessary for this court to order inspection to verify the accuracy or not of their sworn statements re the ballot papers,” the petition states. “This quite apart from the strength of the petitioner’s case for inspection.”
The petitioner requests that the court makes an order that the registrar open all the ballot boxes in the presence of the petitioner and his lawyers, “so that we can examine the ballots for certain conflicting assertions made by the said Supervisor of Elections, namely all the ballots in Central Leeward were pre-printed with the official stamp as required by law [and] in a few instances, the official mark was printed on the counterfoil and the counterfoil is part of the ballot paper.
“The supervision of elections swore to the above in order to refute our initial application for inspection filed in December that over 320 ballots from Central Leeward did not bear the official mark, which rendered these ballots invalid according to Rule 40 of the Representation of the People Act,” the petition states.
Bacchus-Baptiste said that after Justice Cottle heard “our initial application for inspection and refused based in part on this sworn Affidavit of Supervisor of Election, Mrs. Findley Scrubb wrote a letter to the registrar through her lawyer contradicting what she swore to as follows: the ballots were not printed with the official mark as she had sworn to; the presiding officer were all issued with rubber stamps and ink to stamp the ballot papers prior to handing them to voters; [and] the ballots were stamped with the official mark by the presiding officer on the ballots during the election.”
“This is our supervisor of election who we entrust with the printing of ballot papers and supervising our elections,” Bacchus-Baptiste said. “So, the law says you must put on the official mark and initial it just before a voter votes. To pre-print the mark is illegal. Yet why would Ms. Sylvia Findlay swear to this?”
“To further show her recklessness, the supervisor of elections states that the presiding officer did in fact put on the mark during the election? Was she present in every polling station on Election day?” the petition states. “It is necessary to put the mark on the ballot in front of the voter, so that during the count if a ballot paper turns up without that official mark and initials, the law says the ballot is not valid.
“When the registrar opens these ballots boxes, we are going to find that 321 ballots bore no official mark, and the ballot paper was cut off,” it adds. “Now it is possible for the presiding officer to miss stamping one or two ballots but NOT 321 in the same constituency!!! That is too dangerous to be ignored.
“Yet ignore it is what the Returning Officer Mr. Winston Gaymes did which is an election offence,” it continues, stating that S40(f) of the Representation of People Act states “any election officer who wilfully counts any ballot paper as being cast for any candidate, which he knows or has cause to believe was not validly cast, is guilty of an offence and liable to imprisonment for two years.”
Bacchus-Baptiste said Gaymes “swore that he noticed all the ballots in CLF1 did not have the official mark or the presiding officer’s initials; yet, he knowingly counted them contrary to law (Rule 40) and committed an election offence.
“Yet, when I wrote the DPP [Director of Public Prosecutions] Collin Williams to prosecute Mr. Gaymes for committing what he swears he knows was wrong, Colin Williams refused to take action,” she said.
In July 2016, Justice Brian Cottle dismissed the NDP initial petitions, on the ULP government’s claim that they be annulled. But the Court of Appeal subsequently overturned Cottle’s ruling, reinstating the petitions.
In June last year, another judge ruled that the petitions proceed.