Voter secrecy queried

Ballot papers do have numbers on them, Supervisor of Elections Kearney Gomez agreed on Wednesday, but the reason for the numbers has nothing to do with finding out how people voted.

Mr. Gomez addressed the Chamber of Commerce luncheon about the voting process. Questions from the audience afterwards included an observation by Mr. Billy Adam about numbered ballots.

Mr. Adam said he had noticed a number on what looked like a cheque leaf when he was given a ballot. Then he had noticed a matching number on the back of the ballot. What, he asked, was the possibility or probability that someone could use the number to trace for whom he had voted?

Mr. Gomez said the numbers are there for a reason. In case there is an election irregularity and a petition is filed, a judge has to have the wherewithal to determine that ballots were valid. He or she would do so by having the ballot boxes and papers presented to the courts.

The Elections Law provides that the presiding officer gives the voter a ballot, the ‘counterfoil’ of the ballot paper is marked with a number corresponding to the voter’s number on the official list of electors. The presiding officer adds his initials.

After the voter has marked his ballot and folded it so that his marking cannot be seen, he gives it back to the presiding officer. The presiding officer checks the number and initials to make sure the paper is the same one that was given to the voter. The officer then detaches the counterfoil and the ballot is deposited into the ballot box.

Mr. Gomez said the counterfoils are put into an envelope, which is sealed when the polls close. ‘The envelope is not opened – ever,’ he emphasised. ‘Not even when they are incinerated a year later.’

The only person who could open the envelopes would be a judge on petition.

Mr. Gomez added that, until they are incinerated, the boxes of ballots and envelopes of counterfoils are stored in a sealed vault. Election officials do not have access to the vault. The seal can be broken only by a Justice of the Peace on the morning the election materials are to be destroyed.

Mr. Adam suggested that in this day and age there should be a way to audit the ballot count so that no possibility exists for anyone to trace back who voted for whom.

Deputy Supervisor Orrett Connor said he agreed. But unless and until a better way could be found, this was the method for reconciling things and having checks and balances.

The present system makes it almost impossible to trace a ballot back to a voter unless there would be a concerted effort by a large number of officials, he indicated.

Meanwhile, the system in use is not unique to Cayman; it is used elsewhere in the Commonwealth, he noted.

The audience applauded when Mr. Gomez remarked that, in his 25 years as supervisor, there has never been a petition against the Elections Office for any irregularity.

Over that same period, there was only one occasion on which a ballot box was recounted.

Mr. Gomez mentioned police presence on Election Day. After checking logbooks, he found no incidents in or around polling stations resulting in an arrest.

He then revealed that he had requested police presence at political meetings during this campaign. ‘We’ve asked police to be more visible,’ he said.

After Chamber manager Wil Pineau brought proceedings to a close, Mr. Gomez spoke with reporters. Referring to the increase in crime since Hurricane Ivan, along with recent shootings, he commented, ‘I’d be lying if I didn’t say we’re concerned.

The Elections Office does not have responsibility for political campaigning, he noted. But ‘We made the request out of an abundance of caution.’ Both candidates and people who attend campaign meetings should feel secure, he indicated.

Mr. Gomez outlined efforts being made to accommodate all voters at the polls, including the physically handicapped. The Elections Office is still in need of seven wheelchairs for use at various polling stations, he said. If anyone can lend a chair for the day, Mr. Gomez would appreciate being contacted at the Elections Office, 949-8047.

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