Sun | Jan 20, 2019

Mission to save millions - ECJ sets out to confront declining voting numbers, cut losses through democracy passport

Published:Friday | May 25, 2018 | 12:00 AMRomario Scott/Gleaner Writer
Glasspole Brown, acting director of elections.
Dorothy Pine-McLarty, ECJ chairman, displaying a copy of the Democracy Passport during a Gleaner forum yesterday.

Millions of dollars go down the drain at the end of an election exercise because voters are not turning out to participate in the process despite the electoral authorities spending more than $2 billion to conduct the elections to cater to all registered voters.

At the last election, 47.72 per cent of the electorate turned out to vote, signalling to the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) and the Electoral Office of Jamaica that there was need for urgent intervention to not only cap losses, but to also reignite popular pride for participating in Jamaica's fledgling democracy.

Speaking yesterday during a Gleaner Youth Forum at The Gleaner North Street offices in downtown Kingston, ECJ chairman Dorothy Pine McClarty said that the agency was using a Democracy Passport to ramp up its public education with the hope of convincing more people to participate in the voting process.

Explaining that Sweden was in a similar situation with low voter turnout, the ECJ chairman said that it was worth looking into some of what that European country had done to have achieved 82 per cent voter turnout in 2010.

"For the people in Sweden, the task of getting people to participate in the electoral process is a year-round activity. We can't just wait until election time to attend to our democracy. It is not really an electoral matter as such. It's a community thing," McClarty said.

"Interest groups in that country developed and distributed what they called a democracy passport to every citizen in particular areas, making an extra effort to get it into the hands of first-time voters.

"The passport is the size and shape of a normal passport and describes all the political powers that citizens have and all the fora where they can participate. The passport explains which levels of government do what as well as how and what citizens can do to influence the government," the ECJ chairman explained.

"We need to move away from this idea that citizens are just consumers of political programmes and political parties and start seeing them as direct participants in the community," McClarty said.

Glasspole Brown, the acting director of elections, said that ideally, the electoral authorities would want for each elector to have a passport book.

"The process has started to introduce it in schools. Ultimately, what we want to do is to give a copy to each new person who comes on to the [voters' list]," he said.

But just how would a Jamaican version of the democracy passport address the wide-ranging issues affecting the electoral process?

"It puts knowledge out there and it ignites thought. It really asks: 'This is the democratic process: Am I part of it?'" asserted Daynia Harper, ECJ public education officer.