Election results for Gao-Bugotu Constituency in disarray after pre-polling ballots were left uncounted   

Chief Electoral Officer Jasper Anisi (PHOTO: SIEC)

Election results for Gao-Bugotu Constituency in Isabel Province has been thrown into disarray after officials found pre-polling ballots for the constituency have not been counted.  

Independent candidate Trevor Hedley Mahaga won the seat by 13 ballots ahead of OUR Party candidate and incumbent MP Samuel Manetoali. Mahaga polled 2861votes, while Manetoali received 2,848.  

Chief Electoral Officer Jasper Anisi said election officials in Isabel only realised after counting was already done, that they had not included the pre-polling ballots sent from Honiara for all three constituencies in Isabel.  

Pre-polling ballots are those cast by police officers and election officials prior to polling day. They cast their votes early because they will be involved with election duties.  

Anisi said election officials discovered 13 ballots papers – exactly the difference between the winner and his runner-up.  

In the other two constituencies of Maringe-Kokota and Hograno-Kia-Havulei, the pre-ballots that were not counted would not affect the results of the winning candidates.  

Anisi said the breakdown of the uncounted pre-poll ballot papers forwarded from Honiara for each constituency is as follows: Gao-Bugotu 13, Hograno-Kia/Havulei 15, and Maringe-Kokota 11.  

He added the pre-poll ballot papers cast in Honiara for these three constituencies were hand-delivered to election officials in Isabel.  

“They were supposed to be verified and allocated to a batch before starting the verification of the election day ballot papers and counting.  

“However, during the verification process, officials only checked the pre-poll papers from the Buala station and did not include those from Honiara,” Anisi explained.  

As a result of the situation, Anisi said the Commission was asked to consider the situation and to issue some directives.  

Before deliberating on the issue, Anisi said the Commission noted the following:  

–That the respective Returning Officers in legal terms considered ‘functus officio’ (done their job)  

–The only authority able to review the decisions of the Returning Officers is the High Court of Solomon Islands.   

“Having noticed the above matters, the Commission decided that since the difference in votes cast between the successful candidates and the first runners-up in the Hograno-Kia-Havulei constituency and Maringe-Kokota constituency were far in excess of the pre-poll votes not counted, and will not affect the final result, that no further action should be taken in respect of the count results of these two constituencies.  

“In relation to the constituency of Gao-Bugotu, the Commission decided amongst other things:  

–That since the number of pre-poll ballot papers cast and not counted is 13, compared to the difference of 13 between the successful candidate and the first runner up, the final outcome already declared may be affected if all the pre-poll ballot papers cast, without exception, have a vote in favour of the runner up.  

– The Commission in acknowledging that the number of pre-poll ballot papers equal the difference between the number of ballot papers cast in favour of the successful candidate and the first runner up, and also acknowledging the fact that the error was caused by its officials, decided that the Commission would write to the Attorney General’s Chamber, to request that the Attorney-General seek to issue a status petition under section 109 of the Electoral Act, to enable the Court to open the envelope of uncounted pre-poll ballot papers to determine the manner in which those 13 voters had voted.  

“After the deliberations and decision of the Commission, I have reached out to candidates that contested the three constituencies to inform them of these pre-poll ballot papers that were accidently not counted in the final count.”  

He added the Electoral Commission has acknowledged the error and has vowed to rectify the situation promptly.   

Attempts to reach Manetoali today for comments were unsuccessful as his phone was switched off.