Tue | Sep 26, 2017

McPherse Thompson | Conversation on holding of single election must continue

Published:Thursday | May 19, 2016 | 5:18 AMMcPherse Thompson

The race is on. Jamaica's political parties, for all intents and purposes, are once again in campaign mode, this time for local government polls last held more than four years ago, notwithstanding the three-year constitutional life of those administrative bodies.
While sections of the electorate - in the clientilistic thinking that is concomitant with implicit or explicit quid pro quo around election time ñ might be yearning for the occasional opportunity, whether Jamaicans generally have the appetite for another vote so soon after the February 25 general election is anybody's guess.
This takes us to the strong recommendation by the Electoral Commission of Jamaica for legislative changes to give the government the choice to hold local and central government elections either separately or together, for which we commend its chair, Dorothy Pine-McLarty, for putting the issue on the agenda for discussion.
Naysayers - and critics generally - are wont to say that if it ain't broke, don't fix it; that Jamaicans are not prepared for the radical move that comes with a dual election - parliamentary and local government on the same day - and that the polls should be held at different times to avoid confusion in balloting.
The empirical evidence, however, is that some countries have been even more radical - holding local elections on the first-past-the-post system and a closed-list proportional system on the same day, and voters deal with it.


UNDERESTIMATING VOTER INTELLIGENCE


Even more profound is the point made by Peter Facey of Unlock Democracy, at a 2010 political and constitutional reform parliamentary committee hearing in England: "I went to San Francisco at the time of one their elections and a voter was being asked to decide on electing their local council, electing their local mayor, electing state representatives, federal representatives, state referendum issues and local referendum issues."
If one does not believe in the ability of the Jamaican electorate to make two decisions ñ choose a councillor and a member of parliament - in one day, especially in a situation where both are based on the perennially used first-past-the-post system, then one may be underestimating the intelligence of voters.
Just because we inherited the British Westminster model system doesn't mean that we have to slavishly maintain the existing position. After all, the British electoral system itself has undergone reform of the traditional system.
Jamaica might be out of intensive care as far as its fiscal position is concerned, and notwithstanding that some are bullish about the economy going forward, there is a duty, particularly at this time, to do things in the most efficient way.
Actually holding the elections on the same day is considered to be less expensive and could guarantee that more people participate, given that, at least in some countries, local government elections are seen to be more fiercely contested than parliamentary elections.
Moreover, those elections have candidates contesting in smaller geographical areas and the number of such candidates is relatively large. Holding the elections on the same day makes sense if we also want to ensure that there is a higher turnout, something which Jamaica needs.
Given Jamaica's size, the security concern advanced by some countries for staggering local and national elections is not consistent since it is quite likely for the usual level of deployment of the security forces to be able to cover all polling stations as well as outside the voting areas if the polls occur on the same day.


HUGE SAVINGS


As ACE Electoral Knowledge Network argues, if possible security concerns can be addressed successfully, there are great resource savings to be made by holding the elections simultaneously as the recruitment, training and deployment of polling place staff can be done for all types of elections at the same time, and voters' lists, ballots and other materials can be delivered by the electoral monitoring body - in this case the Electoral Office of Jamaica - once instead of at separate occasions.
Again, given the size of Jamaica, the country also does not fit another concern advanced for staggering the elections: improving the possibility of election observers being able to monitor election-day events more efficiently and make more thorough assessments of their conduct.
Of course, for some analysts the more elections the country can have, the more opportunities voters have to send a message to politicians on their support for or displeasure with national governance.
Notwithstanding that, although not yet a convention, it seems to be becoming common practice for prime ministers to call local elections relatively shortly after they form the government, especially if the previous administration serves only one term, rather than stick to the constitutional timeline.
Good judgement will help to avoid duplicate expenditure. The Electoral Office should be prepared to print two different ballots, one with candidates for parliament and another for each local government division bearing the names of candidates for the council. When the voter comes in to the polling station, hand him or her two ballots.
- McPherse Thompson is assistant business editor at The Gleaner and holds a PhD in Political Science. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and mcpherse.thompson@gleanerjm.com

 

 

The race is on. Jamaica’s political parties, for all intents and purposes, is once again in campaign mode, this time for local government polls last held more than four years ago, notwithstanding the three year constitutional life of those administrative bodies.
While sections of the electorate – in the clientilistic thinking that is concomitant with implicit or explicit quid pro quo around election time – might be yearning for the occasional opportunity, whether Jamaicans generally have the appetite for another vote so soon after the February 25 general election is anybody’s guess.  
This takes us to the strong recommendation by the Electoral Commission of Jamaica for legislative changes to give the government the choice to hold local and central government elections either separately or together, for which we commend its chair Dorothy Pine-McLarty for putting the issue on the agenda for discussion.
Naysayers – and critics generally – are wont to say that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it; that Jamaicans are not prepared for the radical move that comes with a dual election – parliamentary and local government on the same day – and that the polls should be held at different times to avoid confusion in balloting.
The empirical evidence, however, is that some countries have been even more radical – holding local elections on the first-past-the-post system and a closed-list proportional system on the same day, and voters deal with it.
Even more profound is the point made by Peter Facey of Unlock Democracy, at a 2010 political and constitutional reform parliamentary committee hearing in England: “I went to San Francisco at the time of one their elections and a voter was being asked to decide on electing their local council, electing their local mayor, electing state representatives, federal representatives, state referendum issues and local referendum issues.”
If one does not believe in the ability of the Jamaican electorate to make two decisions – choose a councillor and a member of parliament – in one day, especially in a situation where both are based on the perennially used first-past-the-post system, then one may be underestimating the intelligence of voters.
Just because we inherited the British Westminster model system doesn’t mean that we have to slavishly maintain the existing position. Afterall, the British electoral system itself has undergone reform of the traditional system.
Jamaica might be out of intensive care as far as its fiscal position in concerned, and notwithstanding that some are bullish about the economy going forward, there is a duty, particularly at this time, to do things in the most efficient way.
Actually holding the elections on the same day is considered to be less expensive and could guarantee that more people participate, given that, at least in some countries, local government elections are seen to be more fiercely contested than parliamentary elections.
Moreover, those elections have candidates contesting in smaller geographical areas and the number of such candidates is relatively large. Holding the elections on the same day makes sense if we also want to ensure that there is a higher turnout, something which Jamaica needs.
Given Jamaica’s size the security concern advanced by some countries for staggering local and national elections is not consistent since it is quite likely for the usual level of deployment of the security forces to be able to cover all polling stations as well as outside the voting areas if the polls occur on the same day.
As ACE Electoral Knowledge Network argues, if possible security concerns can be addressed successfully, there are great resource savings to be made by holding the elections simultaneously as the recruitment, training and deployment of polling place staff can be done for all types of elections at the same time and voters lists, ballots and other materials can be delivered by the electoral monitoring body – in this case the Electoral Office of Jamaica – once instead of at separate occasions.
Again, given the size of Jamaica, the country also does not fit another concern advanced for staggering the elections: improving the possibility of election observers being able to monitor election day events more efficiently and make more thorough assessments of their conduct.
Of course, for some analysts the more elections the country can have, the more opportunities voters have to send a message to politicians on their support for or displeasure with national governance.
Notwithstanding that, although not yet a convention, it seems to be becoming common practice for prime ministers to call local elections relatively shortly after they form the government, especially if the previous administration serves only one term, rather than stick to the constitutional timeline.
Good judgment will help to avoid duplicate expenditure. The Electoral Office should be prepared to print two different ballots, one with candidates for parliament and another for each local government division bearing the names of candidates for the council. When the voter comes in to the polling station, hand him or her two ballots.
  - McPherse Thompson is Assistant Business Editor at The Gleaner and holds a PhD in Political Science. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and mcpherse.thompson@gleanerjm.com