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Director of elections points to billion-dollar savings if general, local government elections held together

Published:Friday | July 3, 2015 | 7:00 AMGary Spaulding
Jamaica Labour party leader Andrew Holness greets residents in Maverley, St Andrew, during the 2012 local government elections campaign. At right is candidate Audly Gordon.
Jason Cummings (left), People's National Party councillor-candidate for the Rose Hall division in East Central St James, greets supporters on Nomination Day 2012 outside the constituency electoral office in Adelphi, St James.
JLP supporters head to the polling station in Seaview Gardens in 2012.
A polling station in Seaview Gardens on local government election day in March 2012.
Voters leaving a polling station on Seaward Drive.
This elderly woman is escorted out of the polling station on Seaward Drive.
Ian Telfer and a supporter celebrate hours before his victory in the 2012 local government election in Maverley, St Andrew.
Orrette Fisher
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After crunching the figures, Director of Elections Orette Fisher believes the country would save approximately $1 billion if the general and local government elections were held simultaneously.

"It is both practical and possible to conduct both elections on the same day," Fisher said.

During a press conference earlier this year, in the presence of independent Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) members Earl Jarrett, Professor Alvin Wint and Justice Karl Harrison, ECJ Chairman Dorothy Pine McLarthy asserted that the prospect of a same-day ballot resonates with that body.

After computing the numbers, Fisher pointed to an existing budget of $1.2 billion for each election. However, he said holding them at the same time would result in approximately $1 billion in savings.

Significant savings apart, Fisher told The Gleaner that amendments to some legislative and administrative elements of the process would necessary for this to happen.

He suggested that the five-day period between announcement and election day should be extended to seven, and that the 16-day window between nomination day and election day should also be extended.

"This would be needed to ensure that ballot papers and other administrative areas are worked out," he said.

Fisher also suggested that the number of voters in polling stations containing in excess of 400 electors should also be reduced.

 

implications for polls

 

He also warned that holding the two major elections on the same day would have implications for what has become the regular postponement of local government polls.

Under the law, local government elections are be called between March and June every three years, but they have been postponed regularly by administrations on both sides of the political divide over many years.

Postponements are usually effected by the passage of bills such as The Kingston and St Andrew Corporation General Election (Postponement) Act, 2006 and the Parish Councils General Election (Postponement) Act, in the Houses of Parliament.

Fisher has also suggested an increase in the three-day period ahead of election day during which members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force and the Jamaica Defence Force cast their votes.

"It is instructive to point out that in all elections, in addition to the police and military, the presiding officers, poll clerks and polling station security assistants also vote ahead of polling day," said Fisher. "This eliminates the need for them to leave their posts to exercise their franchise on election day," he stated in a letter to The Gleaner.

If this becomes a reality, Jamaica would be taking a leaf out of the book of England and Wales, in which general elections have occurred on the same days as the annually scheduled local government elections since 1997.

gary.spaulding@gleanerjm.com