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Electoral commission facing challenges, but...

Published:Saturday | May 30, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Dorothy Pine-McLarty

Dorothy Pine-McLarty, chairman of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ), says the removal of the names of the dead and persons who have migrated from the voters' list continues to pose a major challenge for the commission, which is hampered by a lack of funds.

Pine-McLarty was speaking in an interview with The Gleaner following the close of day one of the two-day 10th International Electoral Affairs Symposium at the Half Moon Conference Centre in Montego Bay.

"Earlier this year, the Government indicated that funding would be given to undertake house-to-house reverification, but that is a lengthy exercise and very expensive. The people in the electoral offices islandwide themselves investigate, check with families, go out to the respective offices of births and deaths in the country to ascertain all of that. For the people who have migrated, it is a little bit more complicated," Pine-McLarty explained.

Pine-McLarty said officers from the electoral office are accompanied by scrutinisers from the political parties, adding that personnel have to be trained to do the exercise, which takes a year or more to complete. She pointed out, however, that despite these issues, the current voters' list, which has 1.7 million eligible voters and of which an updated copy should be printed by May 31, would be good for use if an election were called today.

"There is a continuous registration, and a new list is published at the end of May and November each year, so there is a cut-off in March and September, and it takes roughly about two months to check it, then it is printed and made available to the two main parties and other stakeholders," said Pine-McLarty.

Turning her attention to voter apathy in Jamaica, Pine-McLarty said it could not be good for a maturing democracy like Jamaica to have just over half of the eligible voters casting their ballots as it is costly and speaks to a lack of social and civic responsibility.

"At every election, we prepare for 100 per cent of eligible electors, so a low turnout is an economic loss because so much money is spent to prepare for the election," said Pine-McLarty.

adopt swedish approach

The ECJ chairman has recommended that Jamaica adopt the 'Democracy Passport', which has been in use in Sweden and has resulted in voter turnout rates in excess of 80 per cent at elections.

"In Sweden, interest groups developed a Democracy Passport, which looks similar to the regular passport, which is presented to first-time voters and tells them how different levels of government function; how to vote; how they can influence government to effect changes within in the country," Pine McLarty said.

She said she believed educating the electorate by establishing democracy centres at libraries along with engaging youth at their level through social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, would help to spur an increase in voter turnout in Jamaica.