By Aaron Humes
Justice Courtney Abel agreed Thursday that three of five applicants can ask his court to review Chief Elections Officer Josephine Tamai’s decision to reject 337 signatures from last November’s petition for the recall of Cayo Northeast area representative Elvin Penner.
Of the original five applicants, two – George Manzanero and Sonia Anaflor Moro – are signatories to the petition. They contend that they were disenfranchised by the CEO’s decision, issued on December 30, 2013, to reject their signatures for the petition.
In court, Acting Solicitor General Nigel Hawke, who responded for the CEO and Attorney General, conceded that these voters had an arguable case before the court, and so theirs were the first applications to be allowed by Justice Abel.
But Hawke argued that the other three applicants – identified as Orlando Habet and two of his campaign workers – did not have sufficient standing in law to seek judicial review, since they were not directly affected.
Hawke suggested that the decision’s effect on him and the others would be greater if, for instance, their signatures were on the petition and were rejected.
Senior Counsel Lisa Shoman, joined by Anthony Sylvestre, said that all applicants, as well as those voters not represented in the claim, had a “legitimate expectation” that Chief Election Officer Tamai would have conducted her duties of review fairly, accurately, impartially and within the bounds of the law.
She conceded, however, that the last two applicants were not necessary to advance the case, and Justice Abel exercised his discretion by “filtering” them out on the grounds of better case management and conservation of court resources. The two could still provide affidavit evidence, he ruled.
The case proceeds to trial on July 2 – 4 after pre-trial review in June.
Shoman told reporters that they will push, in particular, for those signatures which the Elections and Boundaries Department said did not match their records to be reviewed.
They will also emphasize a review of those signatures on the petition that Tamai rejected on the grounds that they appeared more than once, as there is no basis in law for their rejection.
According to Shoman, the Chief Elections Officer did not give specific reasons for each rejection, and she may now be forced to do so through disclosure of the rejected signatures.
Tamai had mentioned at her press conference on January 8 that the multiple signatories committed an offence, but no one has been charged.
Shoman says there has been no effort by the Elections and Boundaries Department to find why there are discrepancies.
Shoman said that it will not be necessary to call in a handwriting expert to determine the validity of each signature since they argue that that the CEO had no authority to refuse any of them.
Any combination of 79 successfully reviewed signatures or more puts the petition over the 30% threshold to trigger a first-ever recall referendum.