A good first step at the ECJ

Friday, September 22, 2017

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Finally, we are seeing a step in the right direction, albeit a journey that Jamaica should have long completed.

We are speaking about the revelation by the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) that it is far advanced in proposing changes to the Representation of the People Act to set a prescribed time frame for the holding of parliamentary by-elections.

Proposing such legislation is, by convention, within the purview of the ECJ, which says it is also conducting research into the comparative experiences of countries in adopting fixed election dates for national elections.

That is something we have long advocated in this space, and it has again surfaced with the three vacant seats now in the House of Representatives — St Mary South Eastern, St Andrew South Western, St Andrew Southern — and one in the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation, namely Norman Gardens Division.

The sense in having fixed election dates was clearly demonstrated last year when the prime minister announced local government elections for November 28.

We recall that the announcement appeared to have taken the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) by surprise, as Mr Orrette Fisher, the director of elections, lamented that his office had less than a month to meet statutory requirements and deadlines in order to ensure that its machinery was ready for the polls.

Mr Fisher, in a news release issued on the evening of the announcement, said that the EOJ was hard-pressed to complete a number of immediate deliverables that would ideally require a lot more time. They included:

• Printing of Nomination Day lists for distribution to candidates on Election Day;

• Completion of recruitment and training of more than 30,000 election day workers, which has to be completed to facilitate the printing of the election day workers voters' list;

• Training of election day workers to operate the Electronic Voter Identification System, which followed the manual training which had only just commenced;

• Printing of disaggregated voters' lists (to facilitate special services voting) to be given to candidates eight days after Nomination Day. That is required to separate the voters' list by civilian, police, military and election day worker categories, and assign voting locations based on the information it receives from the relevant entities; and

• Printing of ballots after Nomination Day for the 228 electoral divisions; and the procurement, packaging and distribution of election material to be completed in time for the polls.

“The foregoing belies the magnitude of the tasks to be completed in less than a month. The law stipulates that the date of the election should be no less than 16 days and no more than 23 days after Nomination Day. With Nomination Day being November 11 and Election Day on November 28, this clearly signifies that the EOJ has been given the minimum time period to finalise preparations,” Mr Fisher pointed out in the release.

It is worth repeating that a system of fixed election dates would have reduced, if not eliminated, these problems.

It is our hope that there is swift movement on this issue at the ECJ, and in the Parliament. The added benefit to such a law is that it will remove the temptation to abuse the current system which allows prime ministers to call elections whenever they believe their party will have the best chance of winning.

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