“Yesterday [July 8], my friends, in Central Leeward they were at it again.” So started the somber virtual address in which Ben Exeter, that constituency’s New Democratic Party 2020 elections candidate, presented an update of an incident that was, to his mind, tantamount to another election offence.
“They want to make sure that we do not change this government. They want to make sure that your lives do not improve. Yesterday in Central Leeward I did something I’ve been doing for the last 5 years by attending the registration process of which you go and register to vote.
“Only to be told that I could not attend the process, I have to go outside of the room. I inquired as to why. I questioned the reason as to why. No one could give me a reason why I could not be there. The registering officer, Mr. Pierre, said to me, ‘Mr. Exeter please go outside. Mr. Pierre,’ I said, ‘I’ve been doing this for the last 5 years, why should I go outside now, why today?’
“He said to me that the rules do not permit me to be in the room. I asked him to please cite me the rules which he was referring to. He could not do that and he refused to do so. I held my ground. He made a couple phone calls. About 5 minutes later he received a phone call instructing him to terminate the registration process,” the hitherto unscheduled speech continued.
Exeter is one of two petitioners who have objected to the official polling results in the constituencies they were hoping to represent coming out of the 2015 Vincentian general elections. To date the clock is being run out as those proceedings languish in the local judicial system.
Sources say that the situation escalated on July 13, 2020 when the Supervisor of Elections, Dora James, reportedly “came personally to Layou to prevent Ben from entering the registration center. She positioned her table at the door to block him.”
Another cancelled voters registration session was averted after some dialogue occurred between SOE James and NDP lawyers Kay Bacchus-Baptiste and Maia Eustace.
Asbert News Network reached out to SOE James in hopes that she would provide the legal basis on which she was executing those instructions but she declined to comment. We have since been advised that SOE James has no such authority to restrict members of the public from observing the voters registration process.
Although Vincentian electoral law does not explicitly make provisions for interested parties to witness the minutiae of the voters registration process; that it does seek to engender a spirit of unvarnished openness is undeniable.
NDP Senator and co-counselor in the petition cases, Kay Bacchus-Baptiste, was quick to point us to the SVG Representation of the People Act Section 23.1 as the grounds upon which their challenge stood. It criminalizes any willful act, “without reasonable excuse,” by a registering officer or an enumerator that results in the omission of any qualified voter’s name from the register.
Accordingly such an elections official is considered, in law, to be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine of $750.00 and up to 6 months imprisonment.
Additionally, Bacchus-Baptiste noted that the “main bone of contention” was SOE James’ assumption that observation was permitted in a limited form so that, “you can observe but stand outside.” This untenable position was contested by the NDP’s legal team who, we were told, argued that it was impossible for their agents to intervene if someone was attempting to commit an election offence at that stage.
Senator Bacchus-Baptiste also reported that she now holds a sworn affidavit wherein a witness testified that she was accosted by a woman at the registration center when Exeter was being evicted. This interaction, according to the veteran attorney, yielded a potentially crucial bit of evidence.
“What was most interesting is that she said when she intervened and told Ben to ‘stay, stay. He have no right to chase you,’ a lady who she did not know came up to her – and she described the lady. She said the lady started abusing her and threatening her. And then the lady said … ‘I am from Kingstown but nobody’s going to stop me from registering here in this constituency.’
“I have it on affidavit evidence because I did not want to just take her word. She said the lady was in a group of another person who, as far as she understands, is not a resident of the area in Barrouallie. Not from Central Leeward either. But they were in a group of about 10 of them, she said.
“So I ask the question, ‘is this why Mr. Pierre was so antsy on that particular afternoon?’” Bacchus-Baptiste disclosed.