EBC cancels data-collection test at THA polls after legal threat

FILE PHOTO: Elections and Boundaries Commission Central Electoral Office, Scott House, Frederick Street, Port of Spain. -
FILE PHOTO: Elections and Boundaries Commission Central Electoral Office, Scott House, Frederick Street, Port of Spain. -

THE Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) has discontinued its plan to test an electronic data-collection system during the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) election on Monday, it said in a statement on Sunday headlined, EBC temporarily discontinues pilot project for THA elections.

This came after the EBC’s demonstration of the project on Saturday at the Magdalena Grand Beach and Golf Resort, Tobago, where Chief Election Officer Fern Narcis-Scope reiterated that the voting process was unchanged.

“It’s simply an additional individual sending us data in real-time. We are not relying on this data for anything other than analysis.”

In its statement, the commission said that on Saturday it had met with representatives of the media and political parties contesting the election and subsequently agreed to not conduct its pilot project for parallel data collection at polling stations in the electoral districts of Scarborough/Mt Grace and Mt St George/Goodwood.

“The commission listened to all relevant parties and decided to defer for future elections after there is an opportunity for further consultation.”

The EBC said the media and political parties were invited to sessions for a demonstration of this project showing the collection of data using a technology process in a mock polling station.

“This highlighted how the technology would work in tandem with the existing manual process and that there would be no change in that manual process.

“The Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP), however, declined the invitation to attend the demonstration and maintained their objection to this initiative. In light of this objection and as the EBC remains a committed partner to our democratic process, the commission decided to defer the introduction of this initiative.”

Fern Narcis-Scope, Chief Election Officer at the Elections and Boundaries Commission. -

The commission said the initiative, while limited to two electoral districts, could have provided more timely data to stakeholders and informed plans to improve service to the electorate.

“It is noteworthy that this collection of data utilising technology, in addition to the manual process, is currently being used successfully in the Caribbean and other overseas jurisdictions.

“As the EBC prepares for the upcoming Local Government Elections in 2022, it will take the opportunity to meet with all stakeholders to discuss the advantages of this initiative.”

On Saturday, PDP attorney Leon Kalicharan wrote to the EBC threatening legal action if the pilot project was not scrapped. Kalicharan said the PDP was concerned the electronic system could “compromise privacy if voters’ information were to fall into the hands of opposing politicians, who may use the information to unfairly gain a competitive advantage, especially where elections may be decided by a close margin.”

PDP deputy political leader Councillor Dr Faith BYisrael told Newsday the party was pleased with the EBC’s decision.

“The Progressive Democratic Patriots welcomes the decision of the EBC to ensure these elections are fair and without bias, and remove all doubt of it being fair and without bias.

BYisrael said the PDP was glad the EBC has “let good sense prevail” by not introducing the technology now, while the party was willing to continue the discussion after Monday.

Councillor Kwesi Des Vignes sent Newsday a comment from PNM Tobago Council head Tracy Davidson-Celestine who urged all to abide by the law and recognise EBC’s authority.

“We shouldn’t be afraid to embrace technology. At some time we have to move to an electronic system. We must embrace technology as part of our election process.”

PNM general secretary Foster Cummings told Newsday his party had no difficulty with the EBC’s planned pilot project.

“Our representatives attended the demonstration on Saturday. At the end of the day we are in the age of technological advancement and we have no difficulty with the EBC trying to improve their system.

“At the end of the day it’s up to the EBC whether they will continue with it or not, but our representatives attended the demonstration and we have no difficulty with it.”

Opposition Senator Anil Roberts told a UNC briefing on Sunday the EBC’s change was due to a UNC briefing last Friday.

“We are proud to announce that the UNC has forced the EBC to withdraw and stop that. I commend my colleagues.

“And the EBC...well done. At least allyuh could listen.”

Previously, PDP leader Watson Duke had questioned the pilot project as “careless and high-handed” while UNC leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar characterised it as “vague.”

The EBC in a previous statement had said, “All voting processes and procedures being utilised in these two districts and all other electoral districts on poll day will continue to be the same as in previous elections. The pilot project will operate in addition to the same manual process. In no way shall the project replace the traditional process.”


"EBC cancels data-collection test at THA polls after legal threat"

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