Tue | Jun 15, 2021

Voter traffic busy in marginal seats - Gains and losses could tip scales in battlegrounds

Published:Wednesday | September 2, 2020 | 12:00 AMErica Virtue/Senior Gleaner Writer

Two marginal St Catherine constituencies have experienced heavy elector traffic in and out in the last 12 months, with each receiving in excess of 120 newly registered persons up to May 2020, numbers that could influence the outcome of Thursday’s general election.

The two constituencies, St Catherine South Eastern and St Catherine East Central, received 693 voters between them but lost 425 for a net gain of 268 registered electors, according to data requested of the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ).

St Catherine South Eastern, which a Gleaner-commissioned Don Anderson poll showed both candidates in a statistical dead heat but with advantage to the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), received a net benefit of 133 in the six months ending December 2019 to May 2020.

The seat is being contested by incumbent Colin Fagan of the People’s National Party (PNP) and the JLP’s Robert Miller.

Fagan is seeking his fifth term in the constituency, which he first won in 2002. He polled 7,478 votes to win by a margin of 395 over the JLP’s Keith Blake in 2016. In the six months leading up to the publication of the November 30, 2019, voters’ list, 360 electors domiciled in the constituency, while 227 left in the six months up to May 2020.

Director of Elections Glasspole Brown told The Gleaner that several reasons may account for voters requesting transfers.

“People relocate for many different reasons, including the purchase of a house, rental, jobs, and school,” he said.

Following the request for transfer, a verification process begins to flag individuals moving just to influence the electoral outcome.

“We confirm the residency by verifying the addresses provided. The normal verification process involves representatives of the EOJ, along with political representatives. The address verification visits are unannounced for authenticity,” Brown said.

A minimum of six months elapses before individuals are added to the list.

Neither Fagan nor Miller could be contacted on Tuesday for comment.

Another constituency that showed busy voter movement is St Catherine East Central. The contest there is between the JLP’s Alando Terrelonge and the PNP’s Raymond Pryce. Terrelonge, in 2016, polled 6,214 votes to defeat by 479 the then incumbent Arnaldo Brown of the PNP.

EOJ data showed that up to November last year, 333 voters were transferred to the constituency, but 198 left. The constituency, however, has a net benefit of 125 electors.

Political analyst Ricardo Brooks said there is nothing to stop political strategists from gaming the system.

“I am not disputing nor contesting the EOJ’s verification process, but there’s nothing to stop the process from being manipulated. It all depends on the level of political mapping done by the political parties,” Brooks told The Gleaner on Tuesday night.

Brooks said that the political parties know their strengths and weaknesses division by division and, if so minded, can influence the numbers.

The seat has changed hands in the last two elections with reducing margins, much like the national average, which has thrown it into battleground category.

Other marginal constituencies with net benefits of registered voters include St Elizabeth North Eastern with 60; Westmoreland Central, 34; St James Central, 36; and St James West Central, 25.

At the same time, St Catherine North Eastern lost 77 registered electors and St Catherine North Central, 43.

erica.virtue@gleanerjm.com