ECJ's reverification exercise
Dorothy Pine-McLarty, GUEST COLUMNIST
The following is an excerpt from a presentation done by Dorothy Pine-McLarty, chairman of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ), at a press briefing last Wednesday:
The ECJ has, for some time, acknowledged the need to remove ineligible persons from the voters' list and, while the process is ongoing - through collaboration with the RGD and other sources - we have recognised the need to have a comprehensive review.
However, we have been hampered in carrying out this work, primarily by budgetary constraints. This year, the Commission has been assured that resources will be allocated to undertake this project.
The reverification exercise will address the removal of dead persons from the list and the migration of persons both internal and external.
A house-to-house enquiry and reverification will require a visit to every household in Jamaica. At the end of the exercise, a new list will be produced. It is important to note, however, that the existing database will not be discarded, but will instead be used to verify the identities of persons already on the existing list and their demographic and biometric data updated as necessary.
There are several advantages to carrying out a house-to-house reverification. These include:
Confirming electors at addresses stated on the list.
Electors who no longer satisfy requirements (dead, migrated, etc.) will be removed.
Electors' demographic and biometric data can be corrected/updated (names, date of birth, photo, fingerprints)
Electors placed in wrong polling divisions or electoral divisions can be identified and placements corrected.
Less room for errors by verifiers compared with enumerators.
The data reliability is significantly higher than that produced from a full enumeration exercise (including residence, names, age and date of birth).
Reduces the possibility of persons using the system to get a new identity.
During the house-to-house enquiry and reverification, potentially new electors will be identified and the list of names, addresses and dates of birth recorded by the office of the returning officer. The elector will be required to go to the fixed centre to complete the process.
It is expected to cost approximately $2 billion to carry out the house-to-house enquiry and reverification exercise.
The Constitution requires that a boundaries review be carried out every four to six years; the last one was undertaken between 2008 and 2010. Therefore, we are now in a period of general boundaries review (2014-2016), as prescribed by law.
The ECJ intends to conduct an islandwide review of boundaries, in keeping with a constitutional requirement, which will rectify the breach in St Andrew North Eastern and any other anomalies which may be identified.
Under the Jamaican Constitution, there is an upper and lower elector limit tied to the calculated elector quotient per constituency. When these thresholds are breached, it becomes necessary to adjust constituency boundaries, which, in effect, leads to the redistribution of electors in affected parishes (done during the general review of electoral boundaries).
In determining the upper limit, the size of a constituency should not exceed the average (national) constituency size by more than 50 per cent. On the other hand, the lower limit should not be less than 2/3 the national average constituency size. The average is determined by the total number of electors, divided by the number of constituencies.
A somewhat challenging situation currently exists in Portmore where some citizens of two electoral divisions are not able to vote for mayor of the municipality, because parts of those divisions fall outside of the municipal boundaries.
When the ECJ completed the islandwide constituency boundaries review, including the addition of two new constituencies in St Catherine in 2010, the existing municipal boundaries effectively ran down the middle of the two electoral divisions. All citizens in those two divisions were able to vote for councillor, but only those living within the section included in the municipality were able to vote for mayor.
The ECJ made recommendations for the municipal boundaries to be adjusted to include both divisions. For the boundaries to be redrawn, however, there is a legal requirement for a petition to be signed by at least seven per cent of the inhabitants of the municipality. The Ministry of Local Government and the Portmore Citizens' Advisory Council have asked the ECJ to conduct this exercise.
On Saturday, February 21, the ECJ is planning to have this petition signing at 12 locations in Portmore.
Based on the current voters' list, there are 92,609 electors living in the proposed area of the municipality. This means a minimum of 6,483 persons is required to sign the petition in order to achieve the seven per cent statutory requirement to have the boundaries adjusted. This exercise will cost approximately $1 million.