Tie-breaking vote law requires review

Editorial

Tie-breaking vote law requires review

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

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Were we in the position of Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) candidate for Westmoreland Eastern, Mr Daniel Lawrence, we might have not bothered with a magisterial recount to unseat Mr Luther Buchanan of the People's National Party (PNP).

It's not that Mr Lawrence and the JLP do not deserve a 49th seat or that the party's constituency workers do not deserve their just reward for all their efforts to get a win for their hopeful candidate. Rather, we would weigh the benefit of getting the extra seat in the context of such a massive win by the JLP, against strengthening a very weakened PNP Opposition and, by extension, Jamaica's democracy.

Of course, it's harder for Mr Lawrence who had tasted victory and began to celebrate on election night when it was announced that he had won by eight votes only to be told on the weekend that it was a tie in the final count.

Clearly, it was not only Mr Lawrence who was salivating at his victory. JLP General Secretary Dr Horace Chang indicated the party wanted the seat. “We will definitely be seeking a magisterial recount. I understand there are about 123 spoilt or rejected ballots, and we strongly believe that with the keen eyes of a magistrate, some of them will go in our favour, so we will be pursing that aggressively and vigorously,” Dr Chang was reported as saying.

“From the reports from our team down there [at the counting centre at Darliston Primary School], we believe that our candidate, Daniel Lawrence, has a good chance of getting the seat,” Dr Chang added.

But Dr Chang might be prevailed upon to accept that some victories can be pyrrhic. Is one seat not worth helping to preserve our democracy?

More importantly, however, we would not like to be in the position of Returning Officer Mr Bernard Campbell whose job it was to cast the deciding vote to break the 4,834-4,834 tie between Messrs Buchanan and Lawrence.

We are aware that the task is provided for in Jamaican law, presumably the Representation of the People Act which governs elections here and which is based on the 1918 British Act of the same name.

Jamaica is a small place and it puts too much burden on one individual to be the tie-breaker in a highly politically polarised country such as ours. The implication is easily that whichever party candidate he votes for, that is the party he supports. And we know that can be downright dangerous.

Notice the degree of tension among supporters of the JLP at Darliston when they heard it was the returning officer who should cast the deciding vote. Police reinforcements had to be called in to prevent violence and mayhem.

Mr Campbell, poor man, tried to extricate himself by virtually casting lots — picking one name from two in a ballot box, with his back turned, thus sparing himself the potential agony.

Still, that did not satisfy the people who couldn't grasp the concept of one man deciding the winner of an election. And that we find quite understandable. Surely, there are other tidier and less dangerous ways to resolve a tie.

We suggest that the law be revisited as soon as the Electoral Commission of Jamaica resumes its meetings, now that the elections are practically out of the way.


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