GECOM turns counting results into rocket science

GECOM turns counting results into rocket science

350,000 or so votes should not take almost 72 hours to add up. It’s not rocket science but that is how long it took GECOM to announce the winners in the 2001 (90 hours), 2006 and 2011 elections unnecessarily adding to the inevitable tensions as people are forced to wait and wait and wait.

From the close of poll on Monday November 28 2011, the 2072 Statements of Poll (SOPs) were generated within hours and the results posted outside the respective polling stations. So it was just a matter of getting the copies to GECOM,  adding those up, applying the various formulas to work out the allocation of seats and the results could be announced. Pretty simple.  So why did it take until Thursday December 1 for the announcement considering that both parties based on their SOP copies knew the results pretty much since early Tuesday morning.

The Organisation of American States (OAS) report into the 2011 general elections gives a pretty clear picture of the most recent screw ups that took place, and this does not include the Chief Elections Officer Gocool Boodhoo failing to apply the seat allocation formula correctly. It took a Commissioner, Vincent Alexander to spot the discrepancy.

First off the report notes that “24 hours after the close of polls, less than 10% of the SOPs from six regions had entered into the tabulation process, and only approximately 20% from the more centrally-located, urban regions had been entered into digital tabulation.”

Most incongruous was In Region 4 where “the lag between the number of SOPs in process at the Returning Office and centralized level was significant” even though the distance between that office and GECOM was 20 minutes. By 5.30 am the next morning the returning office had processed 660 SOPs while the GECOM tabulation system had only processed 152.”

The OAS observers not only raised concerns about the delay, but also the lack of procedures being followed and the integrity and transparency of the vote tabulating process.

Here is the relevant text with our highlights, along with some useful charts:

Tabulation and Processing of Results

1. Limitations on Transparency of the Process

The vote counting and transmission process lasted
for three days before the results were officially declared.
The Mission considered it unfortunate that the smooth
functioning of the process seen throughout the day of the
election was replaced by inconsistent procedures and a lack
of efficiency in the processing and release of the results.
The OAS observation mission maintained a 24-hour
presence in the GECOM tabulation center between the close
of polls and the time of the publicly scheduled declaration
of results. Nonetheless, the level of transparency and
access to information was limited for the OAS observers.
These limitations included requests to Returning Officers
for information on the status of the tabulation, denial of
access to several meetings at the GECOM tabulation center,
including one between Commissioners and a Returning
Officer, and indications from several GECOM staff members
and at least one Commissioner involved in the tabulation
process that they could not provide requested information
to the observers.

In several cases information was provided
to the OAS observers by GECOM staff who specifically
requested not to be identified for fear of reprimand and
dismissal for having provided the information.

Due to these limitations, the following account is
based on what the OAS team was able to observe visually of
the handling of statements of poll and parts of the tabulation
process due to presence inside GECOM’s tabulation center
and the Returning Office for District 4.
2. Tabulation process at the District and central levels
The OAS observers were informed by GECOM
personnel that the following procedures would be followed
for the tabulation of the Statements of Poll (SOPs) at
GECOM’s offices:
a) After tabulation by the Returning Officers
at the District level, the official envelope
containing the SOPs would be transferred
to GECOM’s headquarters.
b) Upon arrival at GECOM, all SOPs
would necessarily be verified by the
Commissioners to detect clerical or
mathematical errors. Rejected SOPs were
to be sent back to the Returning Officers to
be re-constituted with all original parties
present.
c) After the initial verification by GECOM
Commissioners, the SOPs would be
scanned into the computer tabulation
center, inputted into the computer system,
verified by a team of GECOM employees,
and tabulated digitally.
d) The original SOP hard copies were then to
be sent to the office of the Chief Election
Officer where a manual count would take
place by a small group of GECOM staff.

OAS observers were posted both at the Returning
Officer’s office for District 4 as well as the GECOM
headquarters. In this regard, while the SOPs entered into
tabulation at the District Returning Office shortly after
the close of polls, the first transfer of SOPs to GECOM’s
offices was not registered until 1:50AM on November 29th.
Given that the travel time between the two locations was
approximately 20 minutes, the lag between the number of
SOPs in process at the Returning Office and centralized
level was significant. As the following chart demonstrates,
OAS observers noted the limited efficiency of the transfer
of SOPs and processing speeds for District 4 throughout the
first night of the tabulation process.

oas chart 1

The following chart shows the progress in inputting (editor’s note see top of article)
the statements of poll (SOPs) charts into the electronic
tabulation system over the three days during which OAS
observers maintained a constant presence in the tabulation
center. Given the geographic challenges in physically transferring
the SOPs physically to Georgetown, the chart below
demonstrates the delayed arrival for the rural areas.

Twenty-four hours after the close of polls, less
than 10% of the SOPs from six regions had entered into
the tabulation process, and only approximately 20% from
the more centrally-located, urban regions had been entered
into digital tabulation. The delayed processing of results
represents a stark contrast from the reported ability of the
major political parties to tabulate results within 24 hours
through their designated party agents.

oasis chart 2

3. Modifications to the established tabulation
procedures
During the tabulation process, there were several
incidents observed by the OAS which demonstrated the
lack of application of uniform procedures. These issues
included:
1. While the SOPs were supposed to arrive at GECOM’s
offices with a police escort, the OAS teams stationed
at the tabulation center in Georgetown observed at
least three envelopes containing statements of poll
being delivered by unaccredited and unescorted
drivers, by GECOM staff, or by Deputy Returning
Officers. In addition, some of the arriving SOPs
were not delivered in the pre-printed envelopes
provided by GECOM for security of the process,
but rather in a manila type envelope.
2. GECOM announced several delays to scheduled
press briefings regarding partial results, and for the
first 36 hours of the tabulation issued results to the
press as a percentage of the voter registration list
rather than votes cast.
3. For the majority of the process, GECOM’s
Commissioners examined and signed off on the
original copy of each statement of poll upon arrival
at the tabulation center, prior to their distribution to
simultaneous manual and digital tallying processes.
Nonetheless, on at least two occasions, statements
of poll were seen to bypass this system and were
delivered directly to the manual tabulation process
by the CEO.
4. On the morning of November 29th, the procedure
in effect was reversed by the GECOM Chairman to
institute the direct delivery of statements of poll to
the manual tabulation process, prior to verification
by the Commissioners in order to speed up the
process. After approximately half an hour, due to
concerns expressed by some of the Commissioners
over the change in procedures, GECOM reverted
back to the original process. During this half hour
time period, the OAS observed the Chairman
deliver statements of poll contained in at least three
envelopes to the manual tabulation center without
having been scanned, copied, or distributed to the
IT process.
In addition, prior to the declaration of results,
the IT department was unable to finish processing all
of the statements of poll, as 307 were not in the digital
tabulation center’s system half an hour before the originally
scheduled declaration of results when the Chief Electoral
Officer reported to the OAS Electoral Observation Mission
via telephone that the count had been concluded and the

results were scheduled to be declared. Subsequently, the
press conference to announce the results was postponed for
more than two hours.

 

 

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