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ECJ wants national registration system - relies on obituaries the media to purge the voters' list of dead people

Published:Monday | August 24, 2015 | 1:58 PMDaraine Luton

The Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) yesterday revealed that it relies on

obituaries published in the media to purge the voters' list of dead people.

Responding to a story published in this newspaper, the election body acknowledged that it faces challenges with removing dead electors from the voters' list.

It said, however, that in addition to meeting with the Registrar General's Department every three months to get information on the names, addresses, occupations, of all adults who have died during those three months, it employs methods such as media watching to help rid the list of dead voters.

There are some 1,793,039 million people on the current voters' list, up from 1,301,638 in July 2002.

Shaw calls for clean-up

Opposition Member of Parliament Audley Shaw has been leading the call for the voters' list to be cleaned up. He noted statements from former general secretary of the governing People's National Party (PNP), Peter Bunting, who claimed that up to 300,000 dead or migrated people may be on the voters' list.

"That is why every election that we have had since the start of the continuous registration in 1997, I have said that the story of a lower voter turnout is a wrong story, because the voters' list, which used to be cleaned up every five years, has not been cleaned up for the past 17 years," Shaw said.

"The turnout is not getting lower and lower. The voters' list is getting higher and higher because we are not taking the dead people off and we are not taking the migrated people off. And what happens is that the more names remain on the list as dead or migrated is the greater the opportunity for corruption on election day. All it requires is collusion in a polling station and dead man will vote and migrated man will vote," Shaw told The Gleaner.

He said the methods being used by the ECJ to clean up the list are insufficient, and that its integrity can only be restored by conducting a complete reverification exercise.

According to the ECJ, its methods of cleaning up the voters' list includes sourcing funeral programmes from churches and political representatives who attend funerals; sourcing of information from hospitals and police stations of persons who have died; soliciting of information from political representatives when they attend the returning officers' constituency monthly meetings; and sourcing information from the political representatives who, through their canvassing, become aware of the deaths of electors.

"The staff at the Electoral Office of Jamaica's constituency offices islandwide work assiduously on a daily basis to obtain information on deceased electors and conduct the necessary field activities to confirm the information received," the ECJ said.

Deirdre English Gosse, chief executive officer of the Registrar General's Department (RGD), in a recent interview with The Gleaner, said the non-registration of deaths could pose a real challenge for the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ), which collects from the department data on Jamaicans who die in order to cleanse the voters' list.

The RGD has revealed that it does not have records of the deaths of a number of Jamaicans, particularly those from lower socio-economic backgrounds who die violently or are killed in motor vehicle accidents, as their families have failed to register their passing.

Yesterday, the ECJ said it "fully recognised the challenges faced by the RGD as they relate to the non-registration of deaths and the limited and restricted quality of the information provided".

The electoral body also said there was an urgent need for a national registration system that would afford every citizen a unique identification number.

"With this system in place, the data from the RGD would be of better assistance than it is at this time, as the ECJ would be better equipped to cross-reference the information," the ECJ said.

Some $19 million for housekeeping has been set aside in this year's Budget for spending on the National Registration (Preparatory) Unit, which is responsible for overseeing the activities currently being implemented to support the establishment of a national identification system. In fact, some $46 million has been spent over the last three years.

In addition to housekeeping expenses, $24.9 million in capital funds is being spent on the design of the legal and policy framework, and the information and communication technology system, with grant support from the government of South Korea. More than $46 million has been spent so far under this facility

Full implementation of the national identification system is scheduled for March 2019.