Orrette Fisher | Dead elector removal exercise (Part II)
In Part I of this article last week, the decision of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) to spend between $600 and $700 million to remove 106,000 dead electors from the voters list was examined.
The question as to whether this was the most effective way to use the limited resources was raised, based on the following:
1) Approximately 50 per cent to 60 per cent of the estimated number of dead electors on the list have not been identified for removal.
2) The electors on the list who no longer reside at the addresses on record (internal migration) remains unresolved.
3) The electors who have migrated and are no longer eligible to be on the list have not been removed.
4) The updating of information, including taking of new photographs to facilitate the production of new identification cards (current cards expired in 2017) has not been done.
All electors holding ID cards with the 2017 expiry date will need to have their photographs, most of which are 10 years old, retaken, to facilitate the production of new cards. Having not used the opportunity to take new photographs of the electors 40 years and older found alive during the recent exercise, every elector on the list must still be contacted to have this done. This can only be achieved by conducting another house-to-house visit, or by inviting the electors to visit the nearest Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) office to have this done. Since the unavailability of funds was the reason a full house-to-house exercise was not carried out, that can safely be ruled out.
In my opinion, the most viable option available to the commission is to invite electors to visit the field offices to have the photographs and other information updated.
What if this was the option taken, instead of going into the field to visit electors 40 years and older for the sole purpose of identifying the dead? If electors were given a six- to nine-month period within which to visit field offices to facilitate the renewal of their ID cards, then all electors alive and residing in Jamaica would have been given the opportunity to have their information updated. Electors who no longer reside at the addresses on the list could have their new residence verified by teams established for the purpose.
At the end of the nine months, if necessary, teams could then be dispatched to visit all electors on the list who had not gone to the field offices. At the end of the exercise, the dead electors and those who no longer reside in Jamaica would no longer be on the list. In addition, the issue of internal migration would have been substantially resolved.
In the end, the entire list would have been updated and the EOJ will be in a position to produce the new identification cards.
Whatever the decision as to how new photographs will be obtained, the taking of photographs of electors 40 years and older encountered during the ongoing exercise would have gone a long way in reducing the work to be done when producing new identification cards.
WHY IS THERE A PROBLEM?
Since switching from periodic enumeration (three- to four-year intervals) to continuous registration in 1997, the electoral office has struggled with the removal of dead electors on a timely and consistent basis. Continuous registration has several advantages, including it being less costly, and the fact that an elector, particularly someone attaining the age of 18, can be added to the next list which is published every six months. This is in contrast to having to await the next four-year enumeration cycle. So, while adding new electors is relatively simple, it’s the removal of deceased electors which has proven most challenging, resulting in the recent islandwide dead elector removal exercise.
The main advantage of the periodic enumeration is that a new list is generated after each cycle, and so the dead are automatically excluded, since they are not around to be enumerated.
The obvious question is: why not just get the information from the Registrar General’s Department (RGD)? This is where the whole issue gets interesting.
The Representation of the People Act (ROPA), which is the primary piece of legislation governing the conduct of elections in Jamaica, does contemplate this and based on Section 8(3), the RGD is required to provide the EOJ with a list of deceased adults every three months.
The RGD, to the best of my knowledge, remains compliant with the requirement. Unfortunately, the information provided by the RGD is inadequate as, unknown to most persons, not all deaths are reported to the RGD, as there are other avenues to obtaining a burial order. The information received also requires extensive investigation before the EOJ can contemplate using it. This, however, is not the subject of this article.
ONE POSSIBLE SOLUTION
If the ongoing problem of the non-removal of dead electors is to be resolved, a new approach is needed.
The EOJ has, over the years, sought to liaise informally with the police, funeral homes, pastors as well as consult the obituaries. With just two full-time members of staff in a constituency office, these results are usually minimal.
The funeral homes together handle almost 100 per cent of those who are buried in Jamaica. Maybe the time has come to formally engage this sector, either through a partnership arrangement or via legislation, where regular reports are presented to the EOJ.
Orrette Fisher is an election management consultant and former director of elections. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.