By Calistra Farrier
Caribbean News Now contributor
ST GEORGE’S, Grenada — Grenadians voted in general elections on Tuesday, amidst controversies over ballot papers and voting procedures.
The just over 78,000 voters are chosing between the incumbent New National Party (NNP) of Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell and the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) led by Nazim Burke.
Early voters formed long lines at most of the 264 polling stations across the country. In the last elections in 2013 the NNP won all 15 seats at stake.
A Caribbean Community (CARICOM) election observer mission was monitoring the election, including the tabulation and announcement of the results after voting ended at 5:00 pm. The mission, led by Pauline Welsh of the Electoral Office of Jamaica, will issue a preliminary statement outlining its initial assessment of the process, followed by a full final report.
After earlier reports about the quality of the ballot paper and an apparent violation/compromise of the principle of a ”secret ballot”, election officials in the South St George constituency confirmed that they were investigating an issue involving a voter who left the polling station with her ballot paper and later returned to cast her vote.
The incident occurred at the polling station in the South St George Government School in Springs, during early voting on Tuesday.
Another voter, who gave his name as Mr Cox, said he was so upset after observing the incident that he felt compelled to comment publicly.
According to Cox, he was in the process of casting his vote when NNP candidate for the constituency, Nickolas Steele, came into the polling station to inform election staff that a female voter had returned with her ballot to place in the box as she had forgotten to do and had put it in her handbag.
Steele is said to have described the woman as a “church lady”, while trying to convince election officials to allow her to cast her vote.
The female voter is said to have explained to the election officials that she did not remember to vote and only realized she was still carrying the ballot paper in her bag several minutes later.
Election staff appeared perturbed by this development and the Parliamentary Elections Office was contacted for direction on the matter.
A statement was taken from the female voter, including the particulars of her ballot paper and the matter is expected to be investigated.
The process for voting is that names are verified against the voter registration list and voters are then given a ballot paper and pencil and directed to the secret polling booth.
No bags or mobile phones are allowed inside the polling station.
Once the voter has completed the ballot it is returned and one section torn off while the ballot itself is given back to the voter to place in the ballot box.
Cox said he does not understand how something like this can happen.
Nicholas Steele is running against Ray Roberts of the National Democratic Congress and Terry Forrester of the Grenada Progress Movement.
Meanwhile, there have been reports of other incidents at polling stations in Carriacou, where are the police had to be called in and also in Grand Roy, St John’s, on the west coast.