PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad -- Then chairman of the Election and Boundaries Commission (EBC) Norbert Masson, with approval of two commissioners, gave instructions to extend, by one hour, the time allotted for voting in the September 7 general election in Trinidad.
In agreement with Masson’s proposal to extend the polls by one hour were commissioners Mark Ramkerrysingh and Dr Noel Kalicharan. The EBC is comprised of a chairman and four commissioners, Newsday reported.
The decision to extend the polls was summarised in an affidavit filed by the EBC in response to election petition challenges filed by the opposition United National Congress (UNC).
In all, three affidavits were filed in the EBC’s defence, Newsday noted. According to the affidavit of EBC legal officer Fern Narcis-Scope, she provided figures representing the margin of victory in disputed constituencies of St Joseph, Tunapuna, La Horquetta/ Talparo, Moruga/Tableland, San Fernando West and Toco/Sangre Grande.
According to the document, the margin of victory in the constituencies, all won by People’s National Movement candidates, were 1,633 votes (St Joseph); 3,615 (Tunapuna); 2,822 (La Horquetta/Talparo); 533 (Moruga/Tableland); 3,310 (San Fernando West) and 3,904 (Toco/Sangre Grande). Also providing an affidavit in defence was EBC communications manager Dominic Hinds.
According to Hinds, he received a call from Narcis-Scope at 5 pm on September 7, informing him that members of the commission had decided to extend voting time by one hour due to adverse weather conditions. Hinds said he received instructions to draft a media release which was later sent via email to various media houses at 5.22 pm.
Returning officer for the Toco/Sangre Grande electoral district David Warner, said he learnt of the extension of time shortly after 5 pm, on election day. He said before 6 pm, all but one presiding officer for the electoral district to which he was assigned, were contacted and informed of the extension. According to Narcis-Scope, the decision to extend the time by one hour in Trinidad came after Masson and a team of EBC officials visited several polling stations just after midday.
The group was immobilised at a Tacarigua polling station because of torrential rains and they received information that voting had stopped at the polling station in Oropune that consisted of three tents, which collapsed because of high wind and showers. She also noted that the team received several calls of voter mobility being hampered by inclement weather and unusually heavy traffic in the polling districts of Port-of-Spain South, Toco/Sangre Grande, St Augustine, Tunapuna and St Joseph.
There were also reports of flooding at the polling stations at the Cedros Community Centre and St Crispin’s Primary School in Woodbrook, which was inundated with as much as eight inches of rain.
Narcis-Scope said there were no reports relayed that there were similar problems in Tobago. In November, last year the Court of Appeal, in a majority ruling, threw out a challenge from the People’s National Movement (PNM) and the EBC of Justice Mira Dean-Armorer’s decision to grant the UNC permission to pursue the petitions.
The UNC has argued that the decision to extend the polls by one hour was illegal. Hearing of the petitions will take place from June 27 to 30. However, an application to have the La Horquetta/Talparo petition thrown out will be heard on Thursday.