PHILIPSBURG--Incumbent Member of Parliament (MP) Johan "Janchi" Leonard (United People's (UP) party) can be considered the big winner after the validation of the votes from the August 29 Parliamentary Elections by the Central Voting Bureau on Wednesday. Leonard was short two votes to be re-elected to Parliament. He received those votes when the bureau reviewed ballots deemed invalid by the polling station on election night.
Leonard (UP #7) is an MP-elect for UP, in spite of the tie with former Minister Maria Buncamper-Molanus (UP #21), because of his placement on the party's list of candidates. Article 100 of the Electoral Ordinance states that in the event of a tie, the candidate first on the list will be deemed elected.
Leonard was two votes short of being named the seventh MP-elect when the preliminary individual vote tally was released by the bureau on Saturday afternoon. Buncamper-Molanus had two votes more than him.
Leonard was one of several candidates and voters who asked for a recount of all ballots at the start of the bureau's public meeting in A.C. Wathey Legislative Hall. The bureau decided only to review the invalid ballots of all 20 polling stations. That review yielded Leonard's two votes, which tied him with Buncamper-Molanus.
Leonard was not the only candidate to gain votes. Several candidates on all six parties that contested the election gained votes in the review.
The meeting of the bureau on Wednesday was in accordance with the Electoral Ordinance to validate the results of the election.
Bureau Chairman Jason Rogers said at the opening, and maintained at the close of the meeting, that there was "no reason to doubt the validity and accuracy" of the election results.
Two letters of protest were lodged at the state of the session with the bureau – one from Social Reform Party (SRP) leader and lone candidate Jacinto Mock and Leonard.
Mock cited as reasons for his protest: "no transparency" based on the bureau representatives not visiting polling stations when ballots were counted, voters not receiving voting cards, and a number of voters "did not understand English."
Leonard asked for a total recount as a way of trying to find his two additional votes to be re-elected to Parliament.
Jim Rosen, a registered voter and campaign rep for Democratic Party (DP) candidate Emil Lee, lodged a verbal protest, calling for a recount of polling stations #8, St. Maarten Academy, and #15, Melford Hazel Sports and Recreational Centre. His reason was the high number of invalid ballots from those stations.
Claret Connor (UP #10) also called for a recount of all districts, saying that he was six votes short of being elected to Parliament.
Sidharth "Cookie" Bijlani (DP #9) requested a recount of all districts due to the high number of invalid votes and because the votes he received were "lower" than he expected.
Richinel Brug (United St. Maarten (US) Party #7) wanted a recount of all districts, especially because party representatives were not given the opportunity to see if the ballots were really invalid on election night.
Herbert Martina (National Alliance #23) asked for a recount of all districts, in particular, #8 and #15.
Narda de Windt (NA #16) also asked for all districts, especially polling stations #5, Dutch Quarter Community Centre, and #8.
Octavio Ogando-Garcia (DP #16) wanted polling station #14, Belvedere Community Centre, and the St. Peters station recounted.
After a 30-minutes recess to deliberate, Rogers reopened the public meeting and informed party representatives that the bureau still found "no reason to doubt" the validity of the numbers from the polling stations. Mock's protest about voters not receiving voting cards was also deemed not applicable as the bureau made several statements informing voters about collecting their voting cards.
Leonard and Connor were told by Rogers being short votes to be elected to Parliament was not a valid reason and "does not indicate the voting or counting was not done accurately and to the law."
The protests of Ogando-Garcia and De Windt were ruled inadmissible as no grounds were given for the request for the recount. Article 88 of the Electoral Ordinance required all protests to be supported by reasons.
To the other protests about the high number of invalid ballots, Rogers said the protests were void as the bureau, based on the electoral regulations, had to check those ballots.
Before stating the review of the some 382 invalid ballots, Rogers informed the gathering that the invalid ballots for polling station #7, Rupert I. Maynard Youth Community Centre, was not separated from the other ballots. The bureau had to open the locked suitcase in which the ballots from that station were stored to find the invalid ballots. This was carried out after all invalid ballots were dealt with from the other stations.
The bureau has had to open the suitcase with the ballots of polling station #6, Milton Peters College. It was found during the review that all the invalid ballots were not set aside by the polling station staff.
Moving from polling station one through 20, the bureau reviewed each ballot and determined whether each was indeed invalid or could be deemed valid. Each ballot was shown to the gathering in the hall. A number of ballots were deemed valid.
The locks on the suitcases had to be broken because the keys did not work.
Polling station #8 saw the most invalid ballots deemed valid by the bureau. The majority of those votes went to UP.
Those ballots saw the total number of valid votes climb to 14,556 from 14,500.
The US Party, headed by incumbent Member of Parliament (MP) Frans Richardson, saw its votes increase from 1,636 to 1,647.
NA, led by incumbent MP William Marlin, had an increase of votes from 4,011 to 4,055.
UP, headed by incumbent MP Theo Heyliger, saw an increase of votes from 6,156 to 6,211.
DP of Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams got 2,342, down from 2,398.
SRP and One St. Maarten People Party (OSPP) gained one vote each.
The new, now final vote tally does not affect the Parliament seat allocation to the parties as announced by the bureau early Saturday morning. UP still has seven seats, NA four seats, and US Party and DP two seats each.
The total number of eligible voters also changed again. The tally after the review showed 21,439, an increase from Election Day, when that tally stood at 21,433. The official voter count was determined as 21,457 prior to Election Day, but that number was changed to 21,433 due to several court orders that reduced the number of people who could vote.
A significant number of invalid ballots saw voters selecting two or more candidates on various lists, colouring the number of candidate they preferred instead of the circle next to the candidate's name, marking the ballot with a blue or black pen instead of the regulation red pencil.
A number of ballots were written on by voters.
One voter at polling station #5 wrote "f**kers" and drew a smiley face on ballot.
A voter took the time at polling station #7 to completely scratch off the list of US Party with a pen and selected NA candidate #10, Romeo Pantophlet.
At polling station #8, a voter wrote: "This island needs God for direction."
"An invalid vote is also a vote" and "I refuse to vote for any of these crooks" were written on two ballots at polling station #10, Raoul Illidge Sports Complex.
"Be there for the people. Not for money" and "Marijuana legalize it – boom (including the drawing of a marijuana leaf)" were written on two ballots at polling station #11, Charles Leopold Bell School.
UP #3 candidate Deputy Leader Franklin Meyers almost gained a vote at polling station #14, Belvedere. The voter correctly filled out the circle with the red pencil next to his name, but added her name – Virginie van Putten – on top of the ballot, rendering it invalid. "No, no, no" and "None" were written on two other ballots at this station.
"Rastafari" on a ballot at polling station #15 caused the ballot to be invalid. Heyliger would have gained a vote at this polling station had voter Leroy de Windt not signed his name on the ballot. Another ballot has the drawing of a smiley face.
Heyliger lost another vote in polling station #16, Methodist Agogic Centre, when the voter correctly filled in the circle, but drew a slash mark across the photos of the NA and DP leaders. One vote for the DP was deemed invalid in this same district because the voter signed the ballot.
At polling station #6, four ballots were written or drawn on. "UP makes SXM a better place," "Jesus Christ Saviour for SXM" and a message in French were on three ballots. The fourth ballot has what appeared to be the Eye of Providence (a pyramid with an open eye), which is usually associated with Freemasonry and is found on the Great Seal of the United States.