Do I have the right to vote?
The mass rallies and nomination day are behind us, and the political campaigns, if not the national debates, are on in earnest. Amid all the 'shower' and 'power' flags, T-shirts and armbands and the political motorcades, have you wondered how many of the flag bearers and vocal supporters have the right to vote on election day? Do you have that right?
The following requirements of the Constitution, the Representation of the People Act and the Fundamental Rights (Additional Provisions) (Interim) Act must be satisfied if you are to qualify to vote:
- Be at least 18 years of age
- Be a citizen of Jamaica residing in Jamaica at the date of registration; or
- Be a Commonwealth citizen who has been a resident in Jamaica for at least 12 months immediately before, and at the date of, registration.
A person cannot be registered as a voter if that person:
- Is under a death sentence in any part of the Commonwealth or serving a sentence of imprisonment of at least six months;
- Has been convicted of any offence connected with the election of members of parliament or members of any local authority;
- Is legally certified to be insane, proved to be of unsound mind or is held as a criminal lunatic;
- Is disqualified by reason of the fact that he or she holds a post which is connected with elections in any constituency.
'One man, one vote, one time'
Having overcome the hurdle of qualifying to vote, electors must physically attend the designated polling station at which they are registered to vote and cast their vote by secret ballot, usually between the hours of 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. Members of the armed forces cast their vote before other electors and special provisions allow persons who are unable to vote in the manner established by law (e.g. due to disability) to be assisted in the marking of the ballot.
Some registered voters may not be able to vote.
Based on the requirements regarding the manner in which the vote is to be cast, some qualified persons may not, as a practical matter, be able to vote. Such persons may include:
- Jamaican citizens residing overseas who may have been enumerated;
- Patients in hospitals or nursing homes;
- Prisoners who are serving terms of imprisonment.
- Persons who have been remanded, pending trial.
The inability of those persons to exercise the right to vote arises because the law makes no provision for voting in any place other than the designated polling division. The law does not permit a vote to be cast by proxy, by post or by a registered voter while overseas. Therefore, if qualified persons, whose names appear on the voters' list, are unable to attend their designated polling division on election day, they will be unable to cast their vote.
If your name is on the voter's list (check www.eon.com.jm), find out exactly where you are to vote before election day. On election day, present your voters' ID card and follow the instructions of the presiding officer.
If you do not have your voters' ID card, you will still be allowed to vote once your name can be found on the voters' list, and your identity can be confirmed.
The right to vote, or not, is yours and you should feel free to decide whether to participate in the process at all, to go 'full speed ahead' or to move 'from poverty to prosperity'.