Pledge for electronic voting by 2025
Outgoing Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte has promised that Jamaicans will be able to cast their votes remotely by the next general election, due constitutionally in September 2025.
Speaking with The Gleaner, the member of parliament-elect for St James West Central said that last Thursday’s general election, which was held amid an outbreak of the new coronavirus, revealed the need for other methods, including early voting.
Such reform, however, requires legislative amendments.
The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) won last Thursday’s general election by a landslide, taking 48 seats to the People’s National Party’s (PNP) 15. But the voter turnout of 37 per cent was a record low in post-Independence parliamentary democracy, a 23 per cent plunge below the previous nadir of 48 per cent in the 2016 polls.
The coronavirus outbreak has so far killed 34 people and infected 3,183.
“What the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us, we will have to sit down and look very quickly before the next set of elections are called about how to make other options available to voters,” Malahoo Forte said.
“I favoured early voting, not just for the security forces and election day workers, but to other persons, and I know that Prime Minister Andrew Holness will sit down with the team and ensure that life is made easier for the people who have to engage in the democratic process.”
At least 10 per cent of registered voters in a late August Gleaner-commissioned Don Anderson poll said they would not vote because of COVID-19 concerns.
Ramped-up sanitisation protocols extended the waiting period at polling stations, with reports of voters taking as long as two hours to cast their ballot.
But Malahoo Forte said that Jamaicans could count on the JLP Government to make voting more efficient and inclusive for all voters.
Among the options coming ahead of the next general election, she said, was electronic voting “that can not only ensure the integrity of the process but also make it more efficient for electors”.
Dr Andre Haughton, the PNP candidate who lost to Malahoo Forte in last Thursday’s general election, is also hoping for a radical shift in the methodology of the country’s electoral system.
“It is time for Jamaica to become modern. I think that now electronic voting should come into play, and I think that now there should be a way for you to vote anywhere you are in the country, for the respective member of parliament that you want to vote for,” Haughton said on election day.
Glasspole Brown, Jamaica’s director of elections, says the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) is ready to put into force all any measures decided on by the legislature.
“Electronic voting is something that would have been looked at in the past, but whatever you do will require legislative amendments if we are to move away from what currently exists,” Brown told The Gleaner by telephone.
“Where we will go at the end of the day will depend on the level of consensus in the country.”
The EOJ uses the Electronic Voter Identification and Ballot Issuing System (EVIBIS) at select polling stations. The system identifies and verifies registered electors at their polling station using their fingerprints before issuing an authenticated ballot to the elector, who will then proceed to physically mark an X with a pencil provided by the presiding officer.
Outside of the EVIBIS system’s ability to authentically identify and issue a ballot to the election, it guards against impersonating an elector and reduces the likelihood of bogus voting.