FLASHBACK - Ancil Dennis, former THA Chief Secretary and PNM candidate for Buccoo/Mt. Pleasant, as he spoke with the media on THA election day, Monday 6 December 2021.

Former Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis, the PNM’s unsuccessful candidate for Buccoo/Mt. Pleasant in the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections, has conceded to the PDP’s Sonny Craig, who has been declared the winner of the seat following completion of the recount process.

The congratulations came in a detailed social media post by Mr Dennis, in which he explained why he called for a recount—the margin of victory, some two votes, was very thin—and detailed exactly how the recount process should have been conducted.

According to Mr Dennis, during the recount process which occurred last week, both PNM and PDP officials agreed that several of the cast ballots were questionable and needed to be rechecked by the Returning Officer.

He also pointed to what he said was a “material irregularity” in the conduct by the Returning Officer, whom he claims refused to recount “the unused ballots undetached from the ballot books” for all polling stations.

The following is the full text of the statement released by Mr Dennis, today, in his official social media…

Over the last 48 hours, I have been the subject of much slander and ridicule from some individuals. This was mostly due to a complete misunderstanding of the recount process as stipulated in the laws of Trinidad and Tobago, more specifically, the Representation of the People Act, Chapter 2:01.

Pursuant to Rule 101(1) the Returning Officer should only make a declaration of which candidate has the most votes if by noon on the day following the closing of the poll neither a candidate nor his agent requests the Returning Officer to conduct a final count (commonly referred to as a recount). I submitted my request for a general final count before noon on the day following the closing of the poll, given the razor thin margin of two votes. This was widely expected.

The final count (recount) took place at the Lambeau Multi-Purpose Facility from 3pm on Tuesday December 7, 2021, to 1am on Wednesday December 8, 2021. Prior to the start of the final count my appointed agent enquired of the Returning Officer for Buccoo/Mt. Pleasant about the recounting of the unused ballots undetached from the ballot books, but she refused to allow this for all the polling stations.

This refusal is in contravention of Rule 101(6) which requires the Returning Officer to count all ballots, hence this must include the unused ballots undetached from the ballot books. This refusal to count all the ballots was a material irregularity which based on legal precedent has the real likelihood of voiding and invalidating the election results since my request was for a general final count. I have chosen not to litigate this issue.

A general final count includes checks of all documents to ensure that all ballots issued by the Returning Officer are accounted for. This complete counting and verification exercise is also to ensure the accuracy of the election result.

Nevertheless, the final count (recount) proceeded, and it must be stressed that several ballots were questioned both by the agent for the PDP candidate and my agent. For example, a particular ballot which was initially counted, was varied and considered a rejected ballot because the elector casted their vote utilizing a pen and not the stamp provided by the EBC. This is a clear contravention of Rule 97(3). Some rejected ballots were also varied.

Under Rule 106(1) a candidate for an electoral district or his agent may, within four (4) days, apply in writing to the Chief Election Officer for a check on the final count of the results of the poll for that electoral district. This is certainly not a second or third recount, but a continuation of the final count or recount process. It must be reiterated that the law provides for only one recount.

By letters dated December 8, 2021 issued by my agent, the Chief Election Officer was duly notified of my intention to continue the final count process under Rule 106(1). By letter dated December 9, 2021 I received correspondence from the Election and Boundaries Commission, Chief Election Officer which confirmed my request and scheduled this process for Monday December 13, 2021 at 10am. 

Where there are questioned ballots from the final count, the exercise is incomplete, and in accordance Rule 106(1) the process continues with the Chief Election Officer or a representative so qualified, conducting a check of only the questioned ballots.

A questioned ballot comes about when a candidate or his agent disagrees with the Returning Officer’s decision on any ballot. The Returning Officer is required by law to write the letter “Q” followed by his or her initials on the back of the ballot. At the final count held between December 7, 2021 and December 8, 2021, both the agent for the PDP candidate and my agent questioned several ballots.

It is noteworthy, that although this process had not been completed, on December 9, 2021, the President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago had sworn in the PDP candidate, Mr. Sonny Craig, as the member for the electoral district of Buccoo/Mt. Pleasant. This was after the Rule 106(1) process was invoked.

Now that I have clarified the process and circumstances surrounding the one final count requested by me, I now take this opportunity to congratulate Mr. Sonny Craig and wish him the best in service to the people of Buccoo/Mt. Pleasant.