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St. Vincent attorney denies violating secrecy of an elector’s vote

By CMC

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Attorney Maia Eustace during her appearance in court Monday (CMC Photo)

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, Feb 12, CMC – An attorney for the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) has denied violating the secrecy of an elector’s vote as the High Court began hearing evidence in the election petition case brought by two unsuccessful NDP candidates challenging the outcome of the December 2015 poll.

Maia Eustace issued the denial after Senior Counsel, Douglas Mendes, who is representing the two successful Unity Labour Party (ULP) candidates in the December 9, 2015 general election, noted that a photograph of a ballot that Eustace tendered in evidence clearly shows the voter’s number of an actual elector.

But she told the High Court that she had not violated the secrecy of an electors vote as the photograph of a ballot she tendered in evidence was a spoilt ballot.

NDP candidates, Benjamin “Ben” Exeter and Lauron “Sharer” Baptiste are challenging the victories of Sir Louis Straker and Montgomery Daniel in the Central Leeward and North Windward constituencies.

The ULP, led by Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, won the polls by an 8-7 margin giving it a fourth consecutive term in office.

The photograph of the ballot was taken by Exeter, and is said to be marked in a way that suggested that the voter had voted for Sir Louis.

Eustace was a roving agent Exeter on election day and attended the final count one day later.

Mendes said that he had checked and the number on the ballot corresponds with one on the voter’s list.

“So if you check the list now, you can find out the name of the person whose number that is, and therefore, did you, by publishing this–” Mendes was saying, when the lead counsel for the petitioners, Queen’s Counsel Stanley “Stalky” John, objected.

However, after hearing arguments from both sides, in the absence of Eustace, the judge allowed the question.

In response, Eustace said that she did not violate the secrecy of an elector’s vote since the ballot in question was a spoilt ballot.

However, Mendes pointed to the relevant section of the regulation under the Representation of the People Act and noted that there was no indication from the ballot that it has been cancelled.

“All we have is that the counterfoil was not separated from the ballot,” Mendes said, as Eustace maintained that the ballot was a spoilt ballot, because it was removed from an envelope marked “spoilt ballots”.

“Then it should have been marked cancelled,” Mendes responded.

But Eustace told the court that would be an instance of the non-compliance that the petitioners are complaining about and that the ballot did not indicate how the voter voted, as it was deemed to have been a spoilt ballot.

Asked why she had exhibited that ballot to the court, Eustace said she had done so to assist the court.

She said that the ballot is a complete one used in the December 2015 general elections and shows “quite adequately the inadequate non-compliant design of the ballot”.

The petitioners are arguing the design of the ballot was not in keeping with the law and in order to verify their authenticity after a vote was cast, electoral officials had to violate the secrecy of the ballot.

Another issue of contention was Eustace’s reference to the ballots as having been “mutilated”.

Mendes read the dictionary meaning of the word and said he was puzzled as to why Eustace had referred to the ballot as “mutilated”.

But Eustace said mutilated means “a perversion of sort” of the ballot, adding that the ballot is mutilated in a number of respects.

“It evidences a disfigurement,” she said, adding that she believes that disfigure is one of the words used in definition of “mutilate” that Mendes had read.

Eustace said that as a result of the disfiguration in the design, the ballot was cut in a manner that compounded the mutilation and in so cutting, the official mark that was supposed to be on the ballot was removed, it is impossible to verify if the official mark was ever there.

The matter continues on Tuesday when the NDP’s legal team will redirect Eustace.

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