Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Chairperson, (ret’d) Justice Claudette Singh, has underscored the importance of constitutional reform prior to the implementation of biometric systems in Guyana’s voting process. Her remarks were made during a press conference held by GECOM on Friday to provide insights into the recent Local Government Elections.
Justice Singh emphasized that without constitutional reform, GECOM is unable to address concerns regarding the bloated voter’s list raised by the opposition, nor can it introduce biometric measures such as fingerprint and retina identification at the polling stations.
In recent months, the opposition has consistently advocated for the swift adoption of a biometric system by the commission. This firm stance even prompted a series of protests organized by the PNC/APNU opposition outside GECOM’s head office on Waterloo Street.
Addressing these protests, Singh highlighted that in August 2019, Chief Justice Roxane George ruled that the names of individuals cannot be removed from the National Register of Registrants (NRR), which is used by GECOM to prepare the voters’ list. The only exception for name removal from the NRR database is in the case of death. Singh also reminded that residency is not a requirement for Guyanese citizens to register and vote, as per the Chief Justice’s ruling.
She stated, “It is pellucidly clear that even if you are a Guyanese citizen living abroad, GECOM cannot remove your name from the Register of Registrants simply because you reside overseas.”
Furthermore, Justice Singh highlighted the ongoing demand for the introduction of biometrics at the polling stations, a notion she dismissed based on a 2001 ruling in the Esther Perreira case, which she presided over as a High Court Judge. In that case, she had deemed the requirement of a physical identification card otherwise a person would be denied an opportunity to vote as unconstitutional. During the conference, Singh also explained that the implementation of biometric measures would disenfranchise voters if they were to refuse participation in the process.
“This would set us back,” she cautioned, adding, “To remove a person’s name from the voters’ list based on residency and to introduce biometrics would necessitate an amendment to the Constitution. GECOM does not have the legal parameters to accomplish this.”
Singh disclosed that the government has already announced plans for a constitutional reform process, and in November 2022, the National Assembly passed the Constitution Reform Commission Bill 2022, paving the way for the establishment of a 20-member Constitutional Reform Commission.
In the interim, she assured that GECOM has implemented necessary safeguards at the polling stations to prevent any fraudulent activities and the wait for constitutional reform is necessary.