Thu | Jan 23, 2020

Orrette Fisher | Will the next parliamentary elections be in early 2020?

Published:Sunday | January 5, 2020 | 12:26 AM
Orrette Fisher
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Interesting days are ahead in 2020, with Guyana scheduled to have general election on March 2. Now an oil-rich country, the stakes are high as to which party will lead the country into this new phase of its development. Most Jamaicans are also aware that the United States presidential election is also due in 2020.

In Jamaica, there is much speculation as to when the prime minister will call the next general election. Some are of the opinion that it could be as early as February or March. Some think it will be in the second quarter, and there are still those who are anticipating the second half of the year.

Most interesting, however, are the views that there is the possibility that it will be preceded by the local government elections.

With the general election not constitutionally due until 2021, the election watchers are having a field day trying to read the signs that will give some indication of the prime minister’s likely timeframe for calling the elections. The speculation is rife as to whether it will be called before or after the reading of the Budget for the 2020-21 financial year. This, it is felt, can be either a negative or positive factor, depending on the level of taxes versus goodies presented.

While not in the business of speculating on possible election dates, using my experience in election administration, I can, with some degree of certainty, say when it will not take place.

FACTORS TO CONSIDER

There is the general belief that the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) is in a constant state of readiness to conduct elections even if a snap election is called. While this might be true in a general sense, there is a minimum lead time required, in addition to the statutory time, if the EOJ is to be in a position to properly conduct an election.

In ensuring that it is in a general state of readiness, the EOJ can, for example, ensure that:

1. All polling station locations are agreed way in advance of any announcement.

2. Blank ballot papers are procured and safely stored away.

3. Non-perishable items like election forms, pencils, and electoral ink are in stock in adequate quantities.

The entire scenario shifts, however, if one focuses on the procurement of items with a limited shelf like. Toners, for example, cannot be purchased too far in advance and are best stored under specific conditions. The EOJ, for a general election, prints several million pages, and the quantity of toners required has to be ordered with sufficient lead time to facilitate delivery. (Emergency-procurement measures can be employed but at significantly higher costs). In addition to printing copies of the voters’ list to be used in polling stations, copies also have to be given to each candidate for the constituency in which he or she is nominated.

A picture voters’ list is also printed for use in polling stations in addition to a black book page for each elector to assist with identification in the event the elector is challenged or there is doubt surrounding his or her identity.

All this is in addition to almost two million ballot papers to be printed, with an additional quantity printed as substitutes in the event that the originals are lost, stolen, or otherwise compromised. The government procurement guidelines sometimes delay the process in purchasing toners and paper in the quantities needed for a general election.

The other limiting factor is the time it takes to identify, recruit, and properly train the army of workers needed to manage the polling day activities. There are workers with experience, having worked in previous elections, but who must undergo refresher training prior to an election.

New recruits are, however, required to undergo extensive training in order to perform to the required standard on the day. Workers needed include supervisors, presiding officers, poll clerks, one-day police and technicians to support the electronic-identification process in the field. When the additional (reserve) staff in each category is trained to allow for attrition, the total number of workers required exceeds 30,000.

This means that in addition to the lead time, some level of funding is also required to facilitate the procurement and the recruitment and training processes.

I am of the view, therefore, that unless the EOJ received some level of funding to commence preparations during 2019, a first-quarter election, although not impossible, is improbable and, to my mind, unlikely.

IDENTIFICATION CARD AND VOTING

The voter identification card renewal exercise is in full swing based on information available. Electors are encouraged to renew their voter identification card as this will make the identification process easier on election day.

It is not a requirement under law, however, for electors to be in possession of a voters’ identification card in order to vote. Once the elector’s name appears on the list, then the elector should be allowed to vote with or without an identification card.

The presence of the black book in polling stations, which contains the photograph of eligible electors along with demographic data, gives the presiding officer the chance to satisfy himself as to the identity of an elector should any doubt arise.

THE LIST TO BE USED ON ELECTION DAY

The current list, published on November 30, 2019, is the list to be used if an election is announced before May 31, 2020, when a new list is scheduled to be published. So electors who registered after September 2019 when the last phase ended, and who now have hopes of voting in the next general election, must pray that the announcement of an election takes place after the publication of the May 31, 2020, voters’ list, which is the list on which their names will appear.

- Orrette Fisher is an election management consultant and former director of elections. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.