Sat | Aug 19, 2017

What to do on election day?

Published:Monday | February 22, 2016 | 2:52 AM
An elector shows that he has voted in the 2011 general election.

The laws that govern the procedure for choosing the leaders of our country must be strictly observed. For that reason, ignorance will not be accepted as an excuse for inappropriate   behaviour and will not enable anyone to avoid the consequences of failing to operate within the legal boundaries.

On Election Day, your polling station may be a school with which you are accustomed; but on Election Day it will not be 'business as usual' between 7:00 a.m. when the polls open and 5:p.m. when they close.  During those 10 hours, returning officers and presiding officers are cloaked with high authority and powers pursuant to the Representation of the People Act.

Provided your name is on the voters' list, and you go to the correct polling division, you are entitled to enter the polling station. Once there, your identity must be verified before he can be issued with his ballot paper. This must be done electronically (by fingerprint) if the special equipment is available, and functioning properly, to do so.  Any elector who refuses to be identified by finger print, will receive no ballot paper and a line will be drawn through his or her name on the voters' list. (It should be noted that the fingerprint can only be used in relation to the registration of the person voting at the polling division.)

Identification card

If the special electronic identification equipment is not available, or is not functioning properly, or if the elector you have no fingers, you must produce your identification card, take an oath and establish your identity to the satisfaction of the presiding officer. Even if the identification card cannot be produced, you may be allowed to vote if you provide the same answers to questions regarding your date and place of birth, your mother's maiden name and her place of birth as appear on the record in the presiding officer's possession.

Electoral ink

As soon as you mark the ballot with an 'X', fold it twice and hand it to the presiding officer.  The presiding officer will then remove the flap on the ballot you must watch him place your ballot in the ballot box (without opening it) before inserting your right index finger in the electoral ink.  After that, you will be required to leave the polling station. For all persons who attempt to avoid the electoral ink, the law is absolutely clear that the presiding officer has the authority to require the elector to remove anything which may prevent the electoral ink from adhering to his finger, unless there is an injury which prevents him from doing so.

Voting is by secret ballot, so you are not to show your ballot to anyone.  If you do so, your ballot may be marked as a spoilt ballot and you could also be charged and fined for breaching the law.

Only the presiding officer, poll clerk, a maximum of four observers, the candidates and one agent for each candidate are allowed to remain in the polling station while the poll is open. However, the candidate and his agent cannot remain there together for more than five consecutive minutes. Each candidate may also have an outdoor agent, who must remain at least 20 yards away from the polling station.

Penalties and Fines

Persons are not allowed to assemble or have any weapons or noxious substances within 100 metres of the building in which the polling station is situated. Persons who assemble within that area may be fined between $5,000 and $20,000 and/or face imprisonment of up to six months. Anyone found with an offensive weapon or noxious substance may be fined between $20,000 and $80,000 and/or face imprisonment for up to five years.

Returning officers, presiding officers and candidates may also be charged with failing to perform their functions or to subscribe to the provisions of the act on election day. Offences such as attempting to influence the manner in which electors vote, bribery or violating the secrecy of the ballot may attract hefty fines of up to $200,000 or up to five years' imprisonment.

The provisions referred to in this article are just some of the measures which are in place to ensure the transparency and fairness of the democratic exercise on election day.

- Sherry-Ann McGregor is a partner and mediator with the firm Nunes, Scholefield, DeLeon & Co. Send feedback and questions to lawsofeve@gmail.com or lifestyle@gleanerjm.com.