Edmond Campbell, Senior Staff Reporter
CONFLICTING STATEMENTS by the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) have raised serious questions about the eligibility of thousands of young voters who may have been enumerated without presenting proof that they were 18 years and over.
Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis on Tuesday questioned whether the ECJ verified that 15,472 electors had achieved the required voting age of 18 years. "From an auditor's point of view, I can say that the risk is material," she commented.
She contended that there was a conflict in how the ECJ operated. "The ECJ operates on the basis of a negative confirmation; if an objection is raised, then they will seek to verify and at that time request a birth certificate".
However, she told Public Accounts Committee (PAC) members that when the ECJ responded to her department's information systems audit last year, the electoral body said it did not believe it had the right to request a birth certificate from persons seeking to be enumerated. "So on that basis then, there is a conflict," she said.
Monroe Ellis received support from committee member Edmund Bartlett who declared: "The auditor general is right, because she cannot measure against a wish or a look or a feeling, she has to measure against something that is material and substantial."
Another member, Karl Samuda, urged his colleagues to "accept her recommendation", noting that "she is correct".
Proof of age
Monroe Ellis had recommended that the commission seek legal opinion to determine "to what extent the ECJ or the director of elections can request proof of age from an applicant at the time of registration".
However, Director of Elections Orrette Fisher said the Representation of the People Act does not give him the authority to demand birth certificates from persons seeking to be registered.
In a heated debate, some committee members objected to the presentation of a birth certificate for registration.
Committee member and ECJ commissioner Dr D.K. Duncan said the commission did not wish to seek legal advice on the matter, because the overriding principle was the constitutional right to vote.
He said a requirement for persons to have a birth certificate to get registered would disenfranchise between 30 and 40 per cent of possible electors.
Committee chairman Audley Shaw said a birth certificate should be the main instrument of age verification for persons wishing to be enumerated.
He described as flawed the current system, which does not require mandatory proof of age.
Shaw said a special report on the matter would be prepared by the PAC for submission to Parliament.