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No fraud in election - ECJ head gives Fisher 9 out of 10 for performance

Published:Monday | February 29, 2016 | 12:00 AMLivern Barrett
Orrette Fisher (left) and chairman of the ECJ Dorothy Pine McLarty.

Amid lingering questions about the conduct of the country's 17th general election, Orrette Fisher, the man in charge of the electoral machinery, has received a huge vote of confidence from the head of the commission established to oversee its operation.

At the same time, Dorothy Pine-McLarty, chairman of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ), has declared that whatever the outcome is of Thursday's poll, Jamaicans can feel confident that the results will reflect their wishes.

Despite an admission by Fisher that there was a "simple transposition error" in the tallying of ballots for the controversial St Mary South Eastern constituency, McLarty insisted that all the provisions in the country's electoral laws have been complied with and that the oversight body was kept in the loop at every stage of the process.

"The integrity of the system is in tact. When the final result comes today [yesterday] that's the will of the people and we have to go forward from there," McLarty told The Gleaner after a nationally televised press conference at the ECJ's St Andrew offices yesterday.

Asked to grade Fisher's performance, McLarty was emphatic.

"I give him a nine out of 10. And the only reason I didn't give him a 10 is because he is human. This whole electoral process of ours is a logistical undertaking of great magnitude," she underscored, blaming the closeness of the election for the searchlight on Fisher.

For his part, Fisher said he would allow Jamaicans to judge his performance, but praised his team for delivering what he described as a "credible election". He also dismissed rumours that ballot boxes were either missing or tampered with. "There is no event of any electoral fraud that I am aware of", he insisted.

Up to late yesterday, the EOJ said the official recount of ballots had been completed in 62 of the 63 constituencies. According to Fisher, the seats are evenly split between the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the People's National Party (PNP).

The EOJ also indicated, late yesterday, that the final recount for the remaining constituency of St Thomas Western was still ongoing.

However, Fisher said the JLP holds a 32-31 majority by virtue of the preliminary result on election day, which saw its candidate James Robertson defeating the PNP's Marsha Francis.

He said barring a request for a magisterial recount, the EOJ was hoping to advise Governor General Sir Patrick Allen of the election result by tomorrow.

He pointed out that candidates have four days to indicate whether they want the ballots recounted by a magistrate, but said this would delay the swearing-in of the parliamentary representatives for those constituencies until the process was completed.

"The magistrate has the authority to overturn whatever the count is. Therefore, the returning officer would not make that final declaration to me until the end of the magistrate recount," he explained.

Yesterday, JLP insiders signalled that the party planned to seek magisterial recounts in the constituencies of St Mary South Eastern and St James South, which were both won by the PNP.

After the preliminary count on Thursday, the JLP's Dr Norman Dunn was declared the winner in St Mary South East with a 127-vote majority over the PNP's Dr Winston Green. However, following the official recount on the weekend, Green was declared the winner by nine votes.

Seeking to explain the turnaround, Fisher said the EOJ discovered, during the final count, what he described as a "simple transposition error" with one ballot box. "Someone who should have got a hundred and odd [votes] was given the lower number and the person who should have got the lower number got a hundred and odd," he explained.

The preliminary count on Thursday had the PNP's Derrick Kellier winning the south St James constituency over the JLP's by 62 votes. Kellier's victory was upheld when the final count was completed late Saturday night.