Tue | Jun 15, 2021

Former EOJ head warns against 2-in-1 election

Published:Friday | June 12, 2020 | 12:14 AMErica Virtue/Senior Gleaner Writer

Former Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) boss Orrette Fisher has cautioned against rushing ahead with the staging of local government and general elections simultaneously despite the prospect of saving almost three-quarter-billion dollars.

Fisher was responding to calls for the country to hold both local and national elections together given that there was a three-month window between the constitutional due dates of both. Current EOJ head Glasspole Brown said that his office has the competence and capacity to handle both if given an additional nine days between nomination day and the holding of the polls.

Elections must be held no later than a minimum of 16 days and no later than 23 days after nomination day. Brown is asking for 23 days to be increased to 32.

While Fisher supports the issue in principle, he said that the choice may not be the best for the upcoming elections.

“I am aware of what the projected savings could be based on what the current director has said. However, there are several changes that would have to be made for that to be possible, and even then, there could still be problems,” Fisher said yesterday.

“The general and local elections are two elections, and, therefore, cannot be staged on the same ballot, and legislative changes would be required for two separate ballots. The ballot itself is a form that is in the electoral law and has to be printed in keeping with Representation of the People Act. No legislation supports otherwise,” he told The Gleaner yesterday.

Adding that nomination day could be twinned, or held separately, he said that a parliamentary candidate’s nomination is ratified by 10 registered voters in the constituency while local representatives are allowed six supporting voters from the parish. Fisher still has questions about how all elements could be accommodated on one ballot.

Brown said that separate ballots were desirable.

Under the law, each candidate is allowed an agent (indoor) paid for by the State.

COST CONCERNS

Fisher said that to keep costs down, the parliamentary and municipal candidate from the same party would have to agree to use the same agent. Third parties are also allowed paid agents, he said.

Without consensus, a separate agent would have to be employed, thus increasing the numbers of persons in polling stations islandwide. COVID-19 social-distancing concerns may also cause accommodation woes.

“On my reasoning, an additional indoor agent would have to be employed and paid by the State for each polling station and maybe an additional poll clerk,” he theorised.

The EOJ currently employs nearly 7,000 workers who are paid by the State.

Commenting on the issue of poll books, Fisher said that this could also present real challenges.

“If you want to vote only for the parliamentary candidate, you have no interest in voting for the local government candidate. When they are adding up the votes for the local government candidates, it wouldn’t tally because you didn’t participate.

“At the end of the day, you add the number of persons who voted, and it is matched against the number of ballots to ensure there is no fraud,” he said.

That eventuality would, therefore, require two poll books and at least another poll clerk, said Fisher, furthing adding to operational expenses.

Fisher also raised concerns about the counting process, querying whether the results of the local government polls would be left until the final count of the general elections. Preliminary counts are given the day of general elections while final counts are conducted the day after.

Appointing separate returning officers, he said, would solve the problem and give equal prominence to the results of the local elections, but also additional costs.

erica.virtue@gleanerjm.com