REPORT ON THE 1999 GENERAL ELECTIONS
IN ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA
The Hon. Lester Bryant Bird
Antigua and Barbuda
I have the honour to submit to you my Report on the General Elections held in Antigua and Barbuda on Tuesday 9th March, 1999.
The Governor-General acting in accordance with the advice of the Honourable Prime Minister and in accordance with Section 61 of the Constitution dissolved Parliament on the 19th day of February, 1999.
ISSUE OF WRITS
Writs of Election were issued to the Supervisor of Elections on the 17th February, 1999, who delivered them to the Returning Officers on the 20th February, 1999.
The Writs of Election fixed 26th February, 1999 as the day for nomination of Candidates and Tuesday 9th March, 1999 as Election Day. The Writs also showed the date when the Writs should be returned to the Governor-General.
After the issue of the Writs, Mr. Rendell O'Neal, Returning Officer for St. John's City West Constituency became ill. As a result, Mr. Delano Richards, a Presiding Officer was appointed Acting Registration Officer on 3rd March, 1999 by the Governor-General. This appointment empowered Mr. Richards to carry out the duties of the Returning Officer, Mr. Rendell O'Neal, during his absence on sick leave.
There were no changes in any of the seventeen constituencies, thus the boundaries were the same as those applicable for previous 1994 General Elections. The 1998 Registers of Elections totalling 52,385 electors were used on the day of the Poll since the 1999 General Elections preceeded the annual registration of voters which is held each year from July 1 to July 7.
NOMINATION OF CANDIDATES
Nomination Day was Friday 26th February, 1999. At the close of nomination forty-two (42) candidates were nominated to contest the Elections in the seventeen Constituencies.
The Antigua Labour Party contested all 17 seats, The United Progressi ve Party 16 seats, The Barbuda People's Movement contested 1 seat, The Antigua Freedom Party contested 1 seat, The National Reform Movement contested 1 seat, and there were 6 Independent candidates. As required under Section 14 of the Election Rules details of the Nomination were published in the Official Gazette No. 14, dated Monday 1st March, 1999.
MEETINGS WITH ELECTORAL OFFICIALS
Before the issue of the Writ of Elections, the Supervisor of Elections was busy holding meetings with former electoral officials who would be reappointed. These meetings were intensified after the date of the General Elections was announced. Almost all electoral officials had worked at an election
previously, thus most were familiar with the electoral laws and procedures which made the training process less arduous. Several meetings were held and the main aspects of the Election System and Process were discussed in detail. Officials were encouraged to read the law frequently so that they would become familiar with it, and thus, be in a position to deal with any problem that may arise during the Elections.
The Supervisor of Elections again, as he did in 1994, reminded Election Officials particularly Presiding Officers, that a ballot paper may be folded in any manner provided the official mark can be clearly seen by the Presiding Officer before it is placed in the ballot box.
In addition, to the several meetings and discussions, the Election Officials were issued the customary manuals for their guidance.
Shortly after the election date was announced election staff began putting together all supplies, forms and materials needed for the elections. Ballot Boxes were stocked with needed supplies. Only Ballot Papers and Official Marks were not included. These would be issued personally to all Returning Officers one (1) day before the elections. In this connection, with respect to this election, Ballot Papers were received somewhat late; not until Sunday at approximately 9:00 p.m. At the 1994 General Elections, B allot Papers were received at approximately 9:00p.m. on Saturday which permitted the Office Manager and Supervisor of Elections to check the 17 batches of ballot papers for any errors or discrepancies.
The success of an Election requires also the support of the Ministry of Public Works. In this connection, I received the full cooperation of that Ministry. I wish here to record my sincerest thanks to all the hard- working teams that ensured all the stations were ready and well equipped for Polling Day.
As they did in 1994, Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA) assisted us free of cost, in providing telephone lines at Election Office which enabled on-going communication with the Media, Returning Officers, and with the voting stations. Cable and Wireless again supplied cellular phones free of cost,
to this office which enabled us to be in constant communication with electoral officials, the media, the police and anyone with whom we needed to communicate. We are most grateful to APUA and Cable and Wireless for their ready and willing support. Thanks to Mr. Ivor Forde also for his part in negotiating with Cable and Wireless.
MEETINGS WITH THE PUBLIC
Two meetings were held at the Cultural Centre at which any member of the public could freely attend and participate. These meetings received good support and our panels were at times under pressure to respond to the numerous questions which they posed.
We always welcome this opportunity to involve the public in election process and we benefited from these exchanges.
ADJUSTMENTS TO REGISTERS
In 1994, after the issue of the Writs of Election, a system was implemented that allowed persons who noticed that their names were inadvertently omitted from the registers to call at the Election Office so that any errors could be rectified. This opportunity, offered to electors, was for a specified period which ended before the day of the Poll. It was aimed at those voters who did not peruse the registers until very late. Many seized the opportunity and ensured that their right to vote was maintained. The lists of all such adjustments to the registers were brought to the attention of the public. During a similar period this year the system was again adopted with good response. However, on Election Day, persons sought my assistance to insert their names on the registers. This was denied. In addition to the usual foolish statements, some persons became abusive and threatening. In a particular letter, the writer stated that I should have postponed the elections since I was aware that the registers are flawed. The Supervisor of Elections cannot, and does not have any authority to postpone a General Election because of any flaws to registers, and the Supervisor of Elections had no role with respect to Election Campaigns.
The Supervisor of Elections visited a few polling stations and observed the long queues of voters patiently waiting for the opportunity to cast their votes. There were no reports of any misconduct and all went well, and according to expectation, until three serious problems occurred in three constituencies. In the All Saints West Constituency, ballot papers were given to voters which had incorrect information printed on them. The names of candidates who were not contesting that seat appeared on the ballot papers. Neither the Presiding Officer nor the electors saw the error, until one alert voter drew it to the attention of the election officials. The Office Manager was detailed to locate those persons who were issued the faulty ballot papers and to encourage them to return to the polling station where they would be given the proper ballot paper to cast their votes. Only one person did not bother to return to the station to affix
his vote on the correct ballot paper. This mistake was the fault of the printing department, and as the ballot papers were received somewhat late, there was not sufficient time to check their accuracy. It is my considered opinion that Ballot Papers should be ready for delivery at least (3) days before the date set for elections so that they can be properly checked at my office, and checked again by Returning Officers and Presiding Officers.
In the Constituency of Saint George, a Presiding Officer erroneously issued Tendered Ballot Papers instead of the correct ones. Its unbelievable that this mistake could occur especially as the Tendered Ballot Papers- which may never be used, are of a different colour to the regular ballot papers. Tendered Ballot Papers are only issued in accordance with Section 46 of the Election Rules - Registration of the People Act, (Cap. 379). If someone with the same name and particulars applied for a ballot paper after another with similar name and same particulars has already voted. The second applicant is issued "a tendered ballot paper". This situation is most unlikely to occur in Antigua and Barbuda because of our small population. The information printed on the Tendered Ballot Paper is the same as that printed on the regular ballot paper so that the elector is able to place his mark for the candidate of his choice on the Tendered B allot Paper, in the same way as on the regular ballot paper. The Supervisor of Elections sought and received permission from the candidates contesting the seat that the votes cast on the Tendered Ballots should be counted. Despite written agreement by the candidates that those Tendered Ballot Papers should be counted, a candidate has since lodged in the High Court an Election Petition objecting to those ballots forming part of the count.
Again in the St. John's Rural West Constituency there was another serious mistake. A number of Tendered Ballot Papers were issued to electors by a certain Presiding Officer. The Returning Officer acted promptly and was able to persuade the voters to return to the station and to cast their vote on the appropriate ballot paper. As stated previously, this is a serious mistake which should not have occurred.
It was rumoured that a man and a woman voted in two different constituencies, in essence voting twice at the same election. If this took place, then it reinforces the urgent need to issue voter identification.
It came to my notice that there were one or two cases of personation. These were promptly and satisfactorily resolved by the Returning Officer.
During polling some complaints were officially lodged at my office
(1) That at some stations, persons waiting to vote were loitering within 100 ft. of the polling stations. It would appear that in some instances persons may not have been aware of the new enactment which required persons waiting to vote to remain 100 ft. away from the voting station. The police quickly and easily remedied any such infringement.
(2) That the black electoral ink is inferior and thus permitted double voting. The ink was examined twice and approved by an expert. My own comment on this issue, which was raised also at the 1994 Elections, is that persons committed to doing evil would find a way to do so.
That some candidates were staying for too long a period in the voting stations. In each case
when such a report was received I immediately investigated the complaint and it was resolved peacefully.
That Poll Clerks were systematically recording the names of voters in the Poll Book in such
a way that it could be determined for whom the elector gave his vote. I pointed out that recording of voters names and other particulars in the Poll Book had been in existence for many General Elections. Government should consider whether it is entirely necessary to retain the use of Poll Book at elections. It's usefulness is in doubt.
Apart from those blunders mentioned earlier and the complaints listed, there was no report of any other serious election offences. In fact, it was pleasing to witness the queues of electors waiting patiently to cast their votes for the candidate for their choice.
It was noticeable that voters also paid much attention to a particular aspect of the Poll Clerk's duties. In a recent amendment to the electoral laws, the Poll Clerks were no longer required to record the voter's registration number as given in the register of electors, on the ballot paper counterfoil. This significant change in the system went a long way to promote and ensure the secrecy of voting. Despite obvious differences, supporters of various political parties remained calm and purposeful while awaiting their turn to vote. The whole atmosphere was peaceful. I am to thank all the political parties for their assistance in ensuring that peace and calm prevailed throughout the day. The Police are also highly commended for their role in keeping order and ensuring that the rules were observed by everyone.
CLOSE OF POLL AND COUNT
As soon as the necessary preliminaries were completed, Presiding Officers accompanied by policemen
traveled to the predetermined counting stations and deli vered the sealed ballot boxes together with all election documents, materials and supplies to the Returning Officers. After the necessary verification and checking of items issued and returned as stipulated in the election rules, Returning Officers, then proceeded with counting the ballot papers in full view of the public and party agents who were allowed to check and verify each vote cast. As the end of each count, the Returning Officer announced the name of candidate who secured the most vote and therefore the winner. When counting was completed in aliI? Constituencies, the Antigua Labour Party won the election with 12 seats, and the United Progressive Party secured 4 seats, the Barbuda People's Movement won 1 seat, the Antigua Freedom Party and the National Reform Movement did not secure any seats neither did any of the six Independent Candidates.
Checking of the ballot papers in some constituencies was not completed until the early hours of the next day
Wednesday, and in one instance, the sealed ballot boxes along with all the other election documents, materials and supplies were not returned to the Supervisor of Elections until after 3 :00 a.m.
An innovation at this election was the hiring of small buses which were assigned to Returning Officers. Each Returning Officer had one at his disposal. It was used to transport all the ballot boxes and other items issued to him, to the office of the Supervisor of Elections after he had completed his assignment at the counting station. It became necessary to hire the vehicles to ensure that Returning Officers accompanied by police officers are in full and complete possession at all times of the sealed boxes, election documents and other items, during the journey to the Supervisor of Elections Office.
This new administrative measure was of great assistance to the Returning Officers, it provided added security and was welcomed by all including the political parties contesting the elections.
I am to thank most sincerely the Transport Board for providing additional vehicles to supplement those hired. Such vehicles were needed in the event of a break-down of the regular transport service. The drivers cooperated fully and to them also I say, many thanks.
CLOSING REMARKS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The General Elections held on Tuesday 9th March, 1999 met my expectations. It was free of violence, and there wasn't any report of anyone either being prevented from voting or coerced to vote. Electors freely voted for the candidate of their choice. My conclusion therefore is that the elections were free, fair and transparent.
I wish also to thank most sincerely the Government Printery for fulfilling the numerous printing requests and for delivering them on time. We thank all printing staff for their usual cooperation.
I am to thank the media for their round-the-clock coverage, in particular their zeal and commitment in getting the news out to the public with speed and accuracy as it unfolded.
The Ministry of Legal Affairs provided much needed advice and directions; personnel there were most cordial and helpful. I thank them most sincerely for their support. The Revising Officer as always, also provided ready advice whenever it was needed for which we are most thankful.
The Police Force must be highly commended for their assistance. They kept control at the polling stations and their devotion and diligence ensured that order was maintained. In addition, they assisted the Returning Officers at the end of the counting exercise in ensuring the security of ballot boxes and other election documents until they were returned to the Supervisor of Elections. I wish once again to record my sincere thanks and appreciation to the Commissioner of Police and other members of the police force.
The large group of electoral officials gave of their utmost. This was always expected and I am very happy that they lived up to my expectation. Their devotion and hard work ensured the success of the 1999 Elections.
The Office staff rose to the occasion; they worked many long and arduous hours to keep the system moving. They were great. To them and other electoral officials my most sincere thanks and appreciation.
Something new was put in place for the 1999 General Elections. The Prime Minister in response to a pledge made previously, invited the Commonwealth Secretary General to send a team of observers to Antigua and Barbuda to observe and to report on the General Elections to be held on Tuesday 9th March, 1999. This innovation by the Prime Minister which received the support of other political parties was widely acclaimed.
The cooperation which the Commonwealth Observer Group received from my electoral staff, and indeed from those with whom they met, clearly demonstrated that the Prime Minister had acted wisely in making his request to the Commonwealth Secretary General for a Commonwealth Observer Group to witness the 1999 General Elections.
My first meeting with the Group was most fruitful. We had free, frank and open discussions on matters relating to the upcoming General Elections, and all but one of the many suggestions put forward by the Commonwealth Group of Election Experts were adopted immediately. The suggestions, and advice of the Group assisted us in being better prepared for the impending General Elections.
I wish personally to record my gratitude for the assistance freely given to me by the Group through its distinguished Chairperson Justice Muhammad Habibur Rahman. I am also most grateful also to all the other members of the Team.
My own recommendations are appended and are in keeping with those .recorded in the 1994 General Elections Report. The Commonwealth Observer Group in their report gave support to many of them.
I wish to thank the Leader of the Opposition and his Party for their ready support and cooperation, despite our disagreement on certain issues. Other Parties which contested the Elections were equally cooperative, and I benefited from our cordial exchanges.
I am most grateful to the Honourable Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda for providing me with the opportunity to serve my Country once again, in this most high office. Thank you very much.
I have the honour to be Sir,
Richard A. John,
Supervisor of Elections.
Re-registration of all eligible electors.
Extension of registration period.
Voter registration ill card.
Establishment of a completely independent Electoral Commission with its own budget. Powers of the Commission should include
Recruitment and training of election officials.
Regular and on-going voter educational programmes.
In collaboration with the media, and other interest groups, establish rules for use of the media by political parties.
Establishment of rules for campaign spending.
Establishment of rules relating to voting procedures.
shows Writ issued to Returning Officers in each Constituency.
shows number of persons nominated in each Constituency.
shows the duly elected candidates for each Constituency.
shows a comparative breakdown
Constituency by Constituency for 1994 and 1999 General Elections.
statement showing the number of votes cast for each Candidate in the Polling Stations of Polling Divisions in each Constituency.
shows the summary of electors of Constituencies in Polling Divisions.
shows the results of the 1999 General Election.
shows the breakdown results of 1999 General Election.
shows Individual Breakdown of Election Results 1999.
shows Total Number of Votes polled in each Constituency for 1999.