Lawyer bashes returning officer for high number of rejected ballots

Lawyer bashes returning officer for high number of rejected ballots

Thursday, September 17, 2020

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THE work of the returning officer for Clarendon North Western in the September 3 General Election came in for sharp criticism at the end of the counting yesterday in the ongoing judicial (magisterial) recount.

The exercise, which began on Tuesday under the vigilant gaze of a senior parish court judge in the Chapleton-based Clarendon parish court, was requested by the People's National Party (PNP)on the basis of the 1,107 rejected ballots. The preliminary vote count showed the ruling Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) Phillip Henriquez winning the seat, with a total of 6,124 votes. The PNP's Richard Azan totalled 6,009 votes, while independent candidate Merrick Cohen got 51.

Yesterday, Anthony Williams, attorney for the PNP'S Azan who had from the onset declared that it would be “foolhardy” not to seek a magisterial recount in that seat based on the number of rejected ballots, told the Observer that at the end of counting yesterday 30 boxes of the 107 had been counted, but was alarmed at the number of ballots that were “rejected” originally that the court had accepted so far.

“One thing that was very clear throughout the proceedings is that the number of rejected ballots that have been accepted is high overall. I looked at Mr Azan's rejected ballots that were accepted and in some instances it was as high as 83.5 per cent and a similar thing for Mr Henriquez. For example, one box had 28 rejected ballots and of the 28, seven went to Mr Azan and 12 went to Mr Henriquez and there were other boxes where it was the reverse. But the number of the rejected ballots that have been accepted is alarmingly high, as to why they were rejected in the first place only God, he knows,” Williams told the Jamaica Observer.

“The glaring trend so far is that a significant number of the rejected ballots so far were just improperly rejected and this is for each candidate,” Williams said. In one instance the Observer was told that between box 23 and box 29 Azan got 42 of the rejected and Henriquez 41.

As to what might have accounted for the foul up, Williams said: “The man (returning officer) was just sleeping on the job; there were one or two that were rejected that were accepted (as improperly marked), but the vast majority (were correct). So thank God for a judicial process for the benefit of each. I have my own suspicions... one wonders why they were rejected; Is it a lack of training? Is it because of biases? I don't know, when you look at the Xs they are crystal clear Xs that a child at basic school would know, so you ask why the X was rejected,” Williams said.

The final number of votes allotted to each candidate of the ballots counted so far will be disclosed this morning before the continuation of the counting.

“At the end of counting the judge's tally did not agree with our (attorneys on both sides) tally so he has decided that he will take the time overnight because when you are doing these things you have to make sure that you do the tally properly because one vote makes a real difference. So he will, in the morning (today), make the announcement as to what the overall votes were at the end of the proceedings,” Williams told the Observer.

The counting resumes today at 9:30.

— Alicia Dunkley-Willis

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