Don't erode the gains made in our electoral system

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

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Jamaica has come a far way in being able to execute parliamentary and municipal elections that are free and fair. Of this we are proud because our history is dotted by many stories of voter intimidation and downright fraud.

Happily, those days are behind us, and we must work to ensure that we never pass that way again.

News that the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) remains unable to complete a voter reverification process in order to clean up the country's voters' list is extremely troubling.

Director of Elections Mr Orrette Fisher brought this into focus at Monday's launch ceremony for the new regulations relating to the registration of political parties.

According to Mr Fisher, two of the problems with the current voters' list is that it contains the names of dead people and Jamaicans who now live abroad.

Said Mr Fisher: “Since continuous registration started there are a number of Jamaicans who would have migrated and are no longer living in Jamaica, and therefore are not available to vote. This would naturally distort the statistics at the end of each election. The law requires that people who are on the list and who vote should do so in the area where they reside.”

Mr Fisher also revealed that there are people who registered initially but are no longer living in the areas where they registered.

The upshot, he pointed out, is that political parties complain that when they carry out their canvassing they are unable to find some electors in the constituencies.

Problems with the voters' list have been a sore point between the island's political parties for a long time. That this issue needs urgent attention is an understatement, as any risk of compromising the electoral system will undermine the safeguarding of our democracy; and no nation can attempt purport to be great if democracy is not secured.

Mr Fisher told this newspaper that after $700 million was allocated in the 2017/18 budget, preparation was under way to start the voter reverification process, but the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) had sought clarification on some aspects of the programme from the attorney general, and is still awaiting advice.

“Therefore, we were not in a position to proceed at that point in time until those clarifications are in hand. A decision was made to remove that $700 million from the budget at the time of the supplementary estimates. I am assuming, however, that the allocation will be made in the new budget,” Mr Fisher said.

We hope his assumption is correct, for it would be a retrograde step to erode the gains made in the electoral system that has won international praise and led to other jurisdictions consulting Jamaican election officials on how to run proper elections.

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