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Votes for sale - Study finds almost one of every 10 undecided voters would accept cash or kind to cast their ballot

Published:Sunday | February 7, 2016 | 12:00 AMArthur Hall
Norman Grindley/Chief Photographer The Gayle report states that three per cent of respondents (who are undecided) stated explicitly that they would vote for any candidate who was willing to purchase their vote with cash or kind.
Dr Herbert Gayle

With every indication that almost half of the just over 1.8 million electors on the latest voters' list are not planning to vote in the February 25 general election, and with a close race expected, there are indications that money could be the deciding factor.

And that money is not the millions expected to be spent on campaign advertising and mobilisation by the two major political parties. It is instead money used to directly buy votes from persons who are willing to sell.

Social anthropologist Dr Herbert Gayle has found that while 48 per cent of the persons on the latest voters' list say they plan to stay away from the voting booths on election day, almost one in 10 says he or she would be willing to sell their vote.

"Three per cent of respondents (who are undecided) stated explicitly that they would vote for any candidate who was willing to purchase their vote with cash or kind," Gayle found in a study on why Jamaicans vote and the implications for which party will win the 2016 general election.

According to Gayle, the study was designed to probe the thinking of the undecided.

"This was done by asking each of them to say what might motivate them to vote. These results were triangulated by their assessment of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the People's National Party (PNP).

"The results ... show that about two-fifths (40 per cent) are likely to vote for the PNP, a third (33 per cent) for the JLP; while one-seventh (15 per cent) could not say the direction they might go, and almost one-tenth (10 per cent) - by 'thinking out loud' - declared that they are most likely not going to vote in the upcoming election," said Gayle.

The study by the university lecturer and his team, which was conducted between November 15, 2015 and January 10, 2016, represents a single snapshot of the 63 constituencies across Jamaica, and utilises integrated methodology as the main approach, with the assistance of qualitative and historical material.

The study consisted of 1,248 respondents - 661 men and 587 women.

According to Gayle, in addition to selling their votes, persons who have not yet decided which party to vote for will make a late decision based on several issues including a dislike of either party, family tradition, and not wanting to be excluded from the political process.

Under the Representation of the People Act, which governs Jamaica's electoral system, the buying and selling of votes is illegal and can be punished with a fine of up to $80,000 and imprisonment - with a provision to bar people from public office or voting thereafter.

Last year, the corruption watchdog, National Integrity Action (NIA), launched a campaign to discourage vote buying, which its executive director, Professor Trevor Munroe, charged was widespread in Jamaica.

"As we come into the electoral season, we are going to be very visual on building public awareness against the scourge of vote buying and selling, which, anecdotally, has been very rampant," charged Munroe.

He has the backing of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ), which has repeatedly declared that it wants to stamp out this practice through campaign-finance reform.

The Code of Political Conduct agreed to by both parties also binds candidates to a rejection of vote buying.

"Candidates or others acting on behalf of candidates must not use funds derived from any source, public or private, to improperly influence electoral choices," reads a key clause in the document expected to be signed by all candidates who are nominated tomorrow to contest the election.