166 rejected ballots ruled valid as Clarendon NW recount continues
Concerns have been raised over the returning officer’s account of 1,107 ballots from the September 3 election in Clarendon North Western as a judicial recount progresses in the Chapelton Family Court.
The official count of votes had seen the Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) Phillip Henriques coming out on top with 5,630 votes to defeat People’s National Party (PNP) incumbent Richard Azan by 83 votes. Azan had polled 5,547 votes, with independent candidate Merrick Cohen getting 51 votes.
Red flags were raised about the high number of rejected ballots last week, with Electoral Office of Jamaica boss Glasspole Brown admitting that the situation was highly unusual.
Ballots in 30 boxes of 107 had been counted up to yesterday afternoon, with the judge indicating that an update on the votes so far would be made on Thursday morning.
Up to 1 p.m. on day two of the judicial recount, 91 previously rejected ballots were deemed eligible. Of that number, 54 were polled in favour of the PNP while 37 were for the JLP.
On Tuesday’s first day of the process, 75 ballots previously rejected by the returning officer were admitted – 40 in favour of the PNP and 35 for the JLP.
The situation drew strong remarks from Azan’s lawyer, Anthony Williams.
“When you look at the number of rejected ballots, you wonder whether or not the returning officer was sleeping on the job. The [rejected] ballots are clear … clear, lucid, marked Xs,” he told The Gleaner.
Former deputy May Pen mayor and PNP councillor for the York Town division, Uphell Purcell, also criticised the returning officer’s decisions.
“The recount sends a very bad signal [about] presiding officers, more so the returning officer. Most of the rejected ballots I saw are good ballots and should not have been rejected,” he said, adding that the PNP could retain the seat at the end of the recount.
“The margin was narrow, and I see a lot of ballots that have gone back to both candidates, with Mr Azan getting more than the other candidate. If it continues like that, then in the end, you might very well see a difference,” Purcell said.
Azan declined to comment on the matter.
He and Henriques engaged in friendly banter as the process got under way.
“A you make we deh yah, enuh,” said Azan to his opponent as they burst into laughter.
Henriques had earlier told The Gleaner that they enjoyed an amicable relationship.
“I don’t see why we shouldn’t have a friendly relationship,” he said.
Still, Henriques remains confident of victory although he expressed dissatisfaction with the slow pace of the recount.
Commenting on the high number of rejected ballots, he said that he hopes that the EOJ learns from the dilemma.
“I hope these type of situations don’t happen in the future,” he added.
Henriques told The Gleaner that with the constituents being tired of having projects started and left incomplete, they had elected him to send a message to Azan.
“I believe they felt the way they were being treated wasn’t the best way for them, and so they decided to look to somebody else to achieve the things that they wanted to achieve,” he said.
Looking ahead, Henriques said that his first order of business would be to listen to the people carefully and try to get the infrastructure and things in place to create wealth for them.
Cecelia Campbell-Livingston also contributed to this story.