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Hart launches protest for Tunapuna

December 18, 2000
Extract: Express

AN objection by Eddie Hartís attorney to 13 unsealed envelopes which did not contain the signatures of the presiding officer for the Tunapuna constituency might lead to a request for a review of the votes.

Eddie Hart, the PNM candidate for Tunapuna, yesterday called a press conference at his El Dorado constituency office, three and a half hours after Evelyn Persad, the EBCís returning officer for that seat, declared Hartís opponent, Mervyn Assam, as having the most votes in the Hart-requested recount.

The recount recorded Assam as having received 9,063 votes to Hartís 8,730, a difference of 333.

Seated at the head table were Hart, his attorney Theodore Guerra and the PNMís Rose Janneire.

Guerra said the press conference was called to deal strictly with the recount in Tunapuna and the discovery of 13 unsealed envelopes which were discovered during the five-day recount.

Guerra said he objected to all the ballots contained therein to the returning officer, Evelyn Persad, but he was turned down.

He said according to the election rules, once the polls are closed, the presiding officer must put in separate envelopes all the ballots cast for each candidate whether or not they are question ballots. These envelopes are to be endorsed to indicate their contents and sealed by the presiding officer, deputy presiding officer and the poll clerk.

He also said the ballots in those 13 envelopes were "squeaky clean without no smudges, no blots", unlike those cast for Hart.

Guerra said it was fortunate that his objection to the first envelope was not considered as he would not have discovered the other 12.

"Having challenged the validity of the envelopes, we feel sure at the review of the election Mr Hart has been advised to apply for, that 2,577 votes which were cast for the UNC candidate will be disallowed and accordingly, we have come to the conclusion that the PNM votes in Tunapuna will constitute 8,730 and 6,486 for the UNC," Guerra said. "We feel confident at the review that it will be successful."

Guerra said that the Hart camp has until Tuesday to file an election petition.

"Election rules are there for a reason," Guerra said, "to keep the sanctity of the ballot clean."

Hart spoke about the woman from Sangre Grande who was offered $600 to vote in Tunapuna on the condition that sheíd have to spend the night preceding the election at the Centre of Excellence at Macoya. He said a list of such people, who did not live in the Tunapuna constituency but were listed to vote there, already had 700 names.

He mentioned, too, the police officer who went to vote but saw his daughterís name on the list as having voted. She is only 13.

Hart mentioned two other voting irregularities:

ē Llewelyn Phillip of Dandrade Street, Tacarigua, going to vote at Five Rivers Islamic School only to find out that his wife, Joan Blake, who died of cancer six years earlier, was on the list and she was ticked off as having voted;

ē Cuthbert Brandon receiving a polling card bearing the address 12 Connell Street, but investigations by Hartís camp showed that the Edmund family lives at that address. Brandonís address is 2 Neverson Street, San Juan.

"People walked in (to polling stations), swore and voted, electoral ink came off easily, an aunt and uncle living abroad were counted as having voted. Thatís a bitter pill to swallow," Hart said.

He said he found it difficult to believe that Mervyn Assam, who came into the constituency only weeks before the election and was rejected by some residents during his walkabout, could amass 9,000 votes.

"You donít get 9,000 votes regardless of the campaign and strategies you have," Hart said. "This is not a matter of sour grapes. I am a sportsman. I shed my tears like a baby, but I know what it is to win and what it is to lose. This was robbery."

All attempts to contact EBC officials proved futile.

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