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The lines at the Gulf View Community Centre. Photo: Trevor Watson

6 P.M came and went but the voting continued because hundreds of people were still lined up at some polling stations.

Shortly before the official close of polls, there were as many as 200 people still waiting in line to get to the voting booth at the Gulf View Community Centre in the marginal constituency of San Fernando West.

The Express was there when the last voter completed the process and left the Gulf City Polling Station at around 6:52p.m.

From observations by the candidates and people who went to the polling stations today, the turnout was larger than the 2015 general election, when the electorate was 1,082,279, and 67.27 per cent of the electorate came out to vote.

This time around, the electorate grew to 1,143,136.

There were sporadic problems across Trinidad.

In Point Fortin, there were reports of a couple being turned away from a polling station because they were wearing yellow coloured outfits.

The EBC issued a release advising that no one should be prevented from voting based on the colour of their clothing.

In St Augustine, there were complaints that a police road block prevented people from getting to the polling station at the St Augustine High School.

And the Gulf View Community Centre, it was torture for some voters.

The long lines and slow pace of voting was the result of the social distancing and sanitizing procedures adopted by the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC).

The EBC says anyone in the line at this time, will be allowed to vote.

GULF VIEW PRESSURE

Multiple reports of long lines and delayed voting times have come out of the Gulf View community centre this morning, where three polling stations are located for the San Fernando West seat.

At 8.30 a.m. complaints of a “bottleneck,” of voters were reported by Agent for UNC candidate Sean Sobers, Jayanti Lutchmedial. According to Lutchmedial, lengthy lines and voting times sent away a number of eager voters from the polls this morning. This delay, she said, was likely a result of covid-19 measures such as distancing and mask-wearing combined with a poor layout and lack of information.

“I’ve seen quite a bit of people appearing to be disgruntled and leaving the area. We are hoping they will return but we do feel that the slow pace of voting is causing people to leave the divisions without voting. It is causing a bit of an interference. I have spoken to the presiding officers and asked them what the issue is. One in particular is a real bottleneck. There is a staircase upstairs where people are voting and they are waiting on the staircase for quite a long period of time,” she said.

The centre which houses the 3880, 3881 and 3876 polling stations she said, saw an impressive number of voters for the morning period. She added that discussions were held with the presiding officer for the area who ensured her that adjustments would be made to accommodate voters.

“The presiding officers have been very helpful, they said that they would try to speak to the officers and see how much they can go faster. At the end of the day with social distancing the need to sanitize and everybody being masked and needing to speak to each other while wearing a mask and all that it is causing some delay. I do believe that a better layout here at the polling station would probably help with the comfort of the persons who are coming here to exercise their franchise,” she said.

Rumours of deliberate lagging, she said, were unlikely although if the problem persisted she said it would be seen as deliberate.

“I don’t want to speculate and say that it is deliberate but at this time I would hope that whatever action they take they would do so. In the absence of any action I would be concerned that this is a deli\berate act. So far we have not raised the issue with the presiding officers and I’ll wait to see what they will do before I come to the conclusion that anything was deliberate. They were very helpful, they appear to be concerned about the lengthy lines,” said Lutchmedial.

Following this, the Express has received multiple reports from frustrated voters lined outside of the community centre.

One voter told the Express that she had taken the two hour allotted period from her place of employment to complete her voting activities. At 4 p.m. she said, approximately 200 people were still lined at the entrance of the centre having still not gained entry.

“I have been standing here for two hours. People in the other lines are going through quickly. Approximately 200 people are here in this line. They came outside and told us we are not getting through because we are not in a line but that is not true. I am here for two hours now and it keeps going, at this pace I don’t know when the people behind us will even get through,” she said.

“This is really frustrating and I don't know what to do. I just don’t understand how they could be telling us we are in a queue when we were lined here the entire time. I left my daughter with someone to come here and do this and now it’s just really bad out here,” she said.

THE VOTE

How they exercise their franchise will decide who will receive the mandate to govern Trinidad and Tobago for the next five years.

This election campaign has been unique because of the existence of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In fact, voters would be strongly encouraged to wear masks at the polling stations, with the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) going as far as the provision of masks to those who are not in possession of one.

The pandemic has created a new style of campaigning where the public meetings have been virtual, making it difficult to assess the mood of the electorate, whose feelings in the past used to be gauged from their attendance at meetings and their spontaneous responses to the various platforms.

Election night contrasts

In keeping with the Ministry of Health Covid regulations against mass gatherings, the People’s National Movement (PNM) has issued to its membership the following statement: “Dear members, the PNM takes this opportunity to thank each and every one of you for your commitment and tireless service over the past several weeks on the campaign trail. As you are aware, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, prevailing health regulations prevent mass gatherings across the country. In this regard, please be advised that there will be no mass congregation at Balisier House on the night of Monday 10th August. You are encouraged to host several small viewing parties at various locations throughout your constituencies. You will be notified of the social media platforms that you can follow to get our official results count. Thank you for your kind cooperation....Remember on Monday to make the right choice...”, Cynthia Joseph, Secretariat, Balisier House”.

However, the United National Congress (UNC) has made no change in its usual election night arrangements.

Wade Mark told the Express that party members and supporters are invited to assemble at Couva South Complex (The party had moved out of Rienzi Complex some time ago).

Asked if there would be a mass gathering at the complex, Mark said: “That is what I have been advised.”

Asked whether there would be any changes to the arrangements because of the pandemic, he said: “Well, I imagine what would happen is that for the actual evening we have to exercise some protocol. Even though there would be a gathering they would not be able to assemble in groups of more than ten in accordance with the regulations. So you could be in the complex but it will be in batches of ten and maintain some social distance...because you have to obey the law.”

Princes Town challenge

A significant development in this campaign was also the challenge to the eligibility of UNC Princes Town candidate Barry Padarath, whose nomination has been called into question by the PNM, which has announced that it would file an election petition in the event of him topping the polls.

Padarath and the UNC have dismissed the PNM’s contention.

Padarath was out of the country during the lockdown and returned days before Nomination Day, during which time he was in quarantine. At issue is whether his being in quarantine barred him from signing his consent form, which is required to be submitted on Nomination Day.

Marginal Constituencies

A feature of this election, as with all other recent elections, is the importance of the marginal constituencies in determining the outcome. All eyes will therefore be on Barataria/San Juan, Tunapuna, St Joseph, Moruga/Tableland, San Fernando West, Toco/Sangre Grande and, though not necessarily marginal, the keenly-contested La Horquetta/Talparo and Tobago East seats.

Another effect of the Covid pandemic is that neither the Commonwealth nor Caricom has been able to assemble observer teams to witness the election. So it is entirely up to the EBC, which has a solid record for the impartial conduct of elections.

Given what happened last election and the ruling of the court that the EBC had no discretion to extend the voting time because of inclement weather, voting hours will be between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. today as stipulated by law.

The EBC has published the traditional prohibitions governing the conduct of elections. These include a prohibition on canvassing within the precincts of a polling station; playing of loud music and loudspeakers broadcasting political propaganda; the wearing of party emblems; impersonation (voting for a person, living or dead or fictitious); bribery, or treating of electors to food, drink or entertainment in order to influence their vote.

The sale and consumption of liquor is prohibited at any premises licensed under the Liquor Licences Act during the hours of voting.

All the prohibitions carry fines or periods of imprisonment in the event of a breach of the law.

By the end of this day, we will know which of these two contending parties will form the next government.

Now to the people.

19 parties,

150 candidates

There are 150 candidates representing 19 political parties and four independent candidates.

The PNM is the only party which presented a full slate of 41 candidates.

The UNC is contesting the 39 Trinidad seats.

The People’s Empowerment Party (PEP) has fielded 28 candidates.

The Humanity Party is fielding seven.

New National Vision 6

Movement for Social Justice 5

Congress of the People 4

Movement for National Development 3

Progressive Democratic Patriots 2

National Coalition for Transformation 2

Progressive Party 1

Independent Liberal Party 1

Democratic Party of Trinidad and Tobago 1

Nationwide Organisation of We the People 1

Unrepresented People Party 1

Trinidad and Tobago Democratic Front 1

The National Party 1

One Tobago Voice 1

The four independent candidates are contesting the Chaguanas East, Moruga/Tableland, St Joseph and Tobago West seats.

However, the main contenders are the PNM and UNC, the only two parties which have the possibility of forming a government.

With 41 seats at stake, there cannot be a tie and the prospects for a hung Parliament are deemed to be slim, as occurred in the 18-18 election of 2001.

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