Fri | Oct 23, 2020

Mobilisation 101 - Moving voters is multimillion-dollar business and winning strategy

Published:Wednesday | September 2, 2020 | 12:00 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer
Voters queue up at St Richard’s Primary School on election day, December 29, 2011. A crucial part of political parties’ machinery is mobilising voters.

Canvassers are crucial to the back-end operation of counting your eggs on election day. But it is the efficiency of the runners and mobilisation crews that ultimately deliver victory.

Heaving ailing grandmothers and stuffing taxis with voters is a multimillion-dollar business, and political parties depend on a well-oiled machinery to move every registered constituent to the ballot box.

Mobilisation requires the support of a battery of committed party workers and sympathisers across the 63 constituencies for either of the two major parties – the Jamaica Labour Party and the People’s National Party (PNP) – to be successful at the final count.

Former PNP General Secretary Paul Burke said that the cost for mobilisation varies widely depending on constituency demographics and topography.

Those cost-inducing election day variables may include the weather, terrain, and the size of the constituency to be covered.

“Take Hope Pastures, for example, where most people have motor vehicles. The demand on personal transport is not going to be the same like in August Town. It is a community-by-community situation, so the spend will vary.

Burke said that the rural constituency of Clarendon South Eastern, with its 140 polling divisions (PDs), could need about 50 cars to churn out the vote efficiently and fast enough to set the momentum.

Pearnel Charles Jr, the incumbent JLP candidate in Clarendon South Eastern, agreed that mobilisation on the big day is both time-consuming and costly.

“Don’t hold me to that number, but you can see the amount of money we are talking about,” Charles said in reference to Burke’s 50-car estimate.

“Drivers will have to be paid and gas money provided. So it’s a big part of the logistics that we have to provide.”

There are more than 60,000 residents in Clarendon South Eastern, but only about half that number are eligible to vote in Thursday’s election.

TRANSPORT FOR RURAL AREAS

St Catherine Southern incumbent Fitz Jackson said that candidates in rural constituencies were forced to contract more taxi and bus operators than their counterparts in urban constituencies.

For good measure, he cited, as an example, St Mary South Eastern, which he said will require more cars to transport voters than in his own constituency because polling stations are spread widely.

“Some constituencies are spread over a wide area, maybe five, six times the size of my St Catherine Southern constituency, even though it may have a smaller voting population,” said Jackson.

“They will have to hire more vehicles to get the job done because most of their PDs would be spread over a wider area than my constituency due to population density”.

There are roughly 38,000 eligible voters in St Catherine Southern.

Jackson said that transportation requirements are also depressed because St Catherine Southern is semi-urban. With most residents from the middle-income bracket, transportation could cost about $500,000.

The PNP chairman, who is seeking a sixth term as MP, has in place a voucher-payment arrangement where designated drivers can access petrol at a prescribed gas station, eliminating the need for cash in hand, which could cause logistical problems.

Jackson said election day expenses covering food – two meals for the day – could run above $1 million.

Montego Bay-based taxi operator Dean Fletcher, better known as ‘Crab’, said he is ready to help bring success to the JLP, which he has been supporting since a teenager. He charged around $20,000 for his services in the 2016 general election.

Fletcher, 28, said he again plans to transport voters on election day but noted that he is mindful of coronavirus risks.

“It’s nothing new. We have been doing this for years, with the only difference now being this COVID-19 thing. But we are ready for that,” he said.

paul.clarke@gleanerjm.com