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Taxpayers should not have to pay for frivolous judicial recounts

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

We will not begrudge Mr Rohan Chung his 15 minutes in the sun, but we refuse to find humour in his running up the election bill that taxpayers have to foot, by requesting a frivolous, wasteful recount of Manchester Central votes.

The Independent candidate provided comic relief with his commercials in the September 3, 2020 General Election. That was fine in an election mercilessly robbed by COVID-19 of the excitement of a traditional Jamaican campaign.

However, to no one's surprise, given the history of voting patterns in Jamaica, Mr Chung picked up 49 votes in the final count, and then proceeded to file his request for a judicial recount. He ended up losing a further ballot.

We find ourselves in agreement with the victorious Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) candidate for Manchester Central, Ms Rhoda Crawford, that there should be a review of the circumstances under which magisterial recounts can be filed.

“…I think that the time has come for us to look at the laws that govern when and how, and the conditions under which magisterial recounts can be filed,” she was quoted as saying by this newspaper.

To be clear, such recounts are vital as a means of resolving very tight election races in constituencies. Example was the case of Westmoreland Eastern, where the JLP's Mr Daniel Lawrence first won, then tied the People's National Party's (PNP) Mr Luther Buchanan, then lost in the tie-breaker, before winning by 11 votes at the end of the judicial recount yesterday. He picked up 28 ballots to his opponent's 18.

Conversely, Mr Chung did not have the chance of a snowball in hell of overturning the results in Manchester Central. His claims of electoral irregularities seemed equally frivolous as the request for a recount. All that might be taken as more of a sideshow, except that it comes at a cost to the Electoral Office and the judiciary. In other words, taxpayers.

Indeed, Ms Crawford fielded a legal team of attorneys, for which they invoiced Mr Chung for $2,287,465. A bill for $150,000 was allegedly presented by councillor for the Manchester Division, Mr Jones Oliphant, who represented the losing PNP's Mr Peter Bunting.

Unfortunately, we might never hear how much it cost the taxpayers, but one can assume it won't be less than what it cost Ms Crawford or Mr Bunting, who might be covered by campaign funds, assuming any was left over.

We, of course, have some doubt as to whether Mr Chung will be forced to pay up after hearing Chief Justice Bryan Sykes reiterating the candidate's right to file judicial recounts as part of our electoral law, and something to be encouraged in our democracy.

The Electoral Commission and the legislature should revisit this law. We think provision needs to be made to either prevent such obviously frivolous applications, or have the candidate cover the cost of the exercise.

This would ensure that only serious cases can prevail, as with Mr Richard Azan in Clarendon North Western, where an unusually high number — 1,107 — of ballots were rejected, and given that the PNP candidate lost by a mere 83 votes to the JLP's Mr Phillip Henriques.

Mr Chung has taken a joke too far, and only Justice Sykes is laughing.