February 25, 2015
Ms. Josephine Tarnai
Chief Elections Officer
Elections and Boundaries Department
Dear Ms. Tarnai,
At the meeting held by your Department on February 3rd, 2015 with political parties and independent candidates and other stakeholders for the Municipal Elections on March 4,2015, you provided us with your personal assurance that there would be consultation with us and timely follow-through on issues of concern which were expressed at the meeting, particularly in respect of the following matters:
a) the prompt settling by the Department of those Polling Stations not yet agreed upon and in particular the Customs compound;
b) the final location of all Counting Stations,
c) and how many individual ballot boxes would be counted simultaneously.
I am disappointed that in fact, such consultation did thereafter not take place and that the final list of Polling Stations and Counting Stations was published in newspapers in Belize last weekend, without consulting us at all.
At my request, Ms. Lisa Shoman attended, on behalf of the PUP, a meeting which was convened by the Returning Officer for Belize City Council Elections, Mr. Hugo Miranda. According to the report submitted by Ms. Shoman, Mr. Miranda conveyed to those present that the decision had already been taken to count all ballot boxes for the Belize City Council elections, not at the ITVET compound as notified by you on February 3rd, but to do so in 10 different Counting Stations in Belize City, each station which will be supervised by a designated Election Clerk while Mr. Miranda will remain at the offices of EBD with the intention to “oversee” the counting process from there.
Ms. Shoman was obliged to ask Mr. Miranda to specify exactly how many ballot boxes were to be counted at any Counting Station at any one time, because this was one of the concerns raised with you, and which you undertook to consult with us. The concern was raised in order to ensure that the process of counting would be carried out according to law and in an orderly fashion, with transparency and accountability and all legal safeguards intact.
Mr. Miranda replied that “the Commission” has “mandated” the Public Officers serving as Returning Officers and Election Clerks to commence counting ALL BOXES immediately on arrival at the Counting Station – meaning that at some point there will be a simultaneous count in Belize City of some 85 boxes. Ms. Shoman raised several objections to the “mandate” as expressed by Mr. Miranda based on the following:
1. Sections 74 and 75 of the Belize City Council (Registration of Electors and Elections) Regulations Cap 85S, which govern the procedure in respect of the conduct of elections for the Belize City Council mandate that the “Returning Officer” SHALL open the sealed ballot boxes” as soon as received, and SHALL in the presence of candidates and agents proceed to do a number of things.
Whereas the law would seem to permit the Returning Officer to delegate his responsibility to each of the 10 Election Clerks appointed to assist in the carrying out of his responsibility, the Returning Officer is constrained by the law, and is not permitted to further sub-delegate the tasks and duties contained in Sections 74 and 75 to those Counting Clerks who will be working under the direction of the Election Clerks. It is only the Returning Officer or the duly appointed Election Clerks who may perform the relevant duties.
2. Ms. Shoman also took the position that based on the personnel figures that had been provided to me by your office that there were not enough personnel to provide for even 2 Counting Clerks per box, the bare minimum required for such a task.
3. An objection was made as well, on the basis of space, and the number of persons per box allowed per party – 4 per box in addition to the Counting Clerks and the need for sufficient space, privacy, lack of noise and adequate resources to accomplish the task of properly counting each ballot box.
All of these objections were met with dismissal by Mr. Miranda on the basis that this “could be done administratively” even if the law was saying something else, and that the decision had already been taken by “the Commission” that the count would be simultaneous, with the object of concluding the count of ALL 85 ballot boxes in Belize City by about 9:30 pm or 10.
We are also informed that enough personnel to count will be available because the EBD plans to use the Polling Agents from during the day, to act as Counting Clerks, in order to get the job done.
The decision taken was never consulted with the People’s United Party, as promised and we would not and do not agree to the simultaneous count of all ballot boxes in Belize City at the 10 Counting Stations.
There is absolutely no way that the Returning Officer or the Elections Clerks can possibly carry out their legal mandate and duties under the law and the decision taken by the Commission, as per Mr. Miranda, to take an approach which is not sanctioned by the law, means that the counting process in the Belize City Council is rife with possibility for confusion, chaos, mistake and inaccuracy particularly as the Ballot is one which involves two different contested races – mayoral and councilors, and which traditionally are more difficult to count than in General Elections.
In the smallest polling stations, Pickstock, Fort George, Albert, Queen’s Square and Mesopotamia – this will mean 7/8 boxes will be counted at the same time; in Freetown, Caribbean Shores, Collet, and Port -9/10 boxes, and in Lake Independence, the biggest, 12 boxes at the same time.
We call on your Department and Returning Officer Miranda not to proceed in counting ballot boxes in a manner that is clearly against the letter and spirit of the law, and to proceed instead in a manner that is fair, transparent, accountable and legal.
I M Palacio
People’s United Party
cc: The Chairman, Elections and Boundaries Commission
Mr. Derek Courtenay, SC
Mr. Orlando Espat