Let me start by making it absolutely clear that I am not speaking on behalf of the Electoral Office of Jamaica; but instead, I am speaking as a citizen of Jamaica who worked as a Presiding Officer in two General Elections, which includes General Election 2016.
Now, for those who might know me well will readily concur that I am a very sceptical person who strongly believes that Jamaica is one of the most corrupt and immoral countries on the planet due to the decades-long mindset and operations of politicians, public officials, business moguls, and the citizens. With that said, and based on my observation and participation in the running of two General Elections, I must say unequivocally that Jamaica’s electoral process and systems are virtually—noting that no system is really impenetrable—tamper proof, which makes it literally impossible for any kind of voter fraud to occur without the authorities being able to easily identify and imprison those involved in any form of electoral fraud.
In explaining the electoral process and chain of custody during any election, I will start by saying that each Polling Location is managed by an Election Day Supervisor, who is in charge of managing the given number of Polling Stations within his/her Polling Location. In each Polling Station, there is a Presiding Officer who is in charge of the Ballot Box and the conduct of election in his/her Polling Station. In addition to the Presiding Officer in each Polling Station, you will find the following persons: A Poll Clerk, who is responsible for recording accurate entries of electors in the Poll Book as well assisting the Presiding Officer where necessary; One Indoor Agent (or an Elector if no Agent is present) for each Candidate in that election, who is basically the watchdog for the Candidate he/she is representing in order to satisfactorily report to his/her Candidate that the Presiding Officer conducted the election for that Polling Station in a fair and efficient way. With that aside, before the Polling Station is officially declared open to the public by the Presiding Officer, the serial numbers and amount of each batch of Ballot Papers given to the Presiding Officer are counted in the presence of the Poll Clerk and Indoor Agents, and a carbonated copy of the Ballot Papers serial numbers and amounts are then given to each Indoor Agent.
Also, the Presiding Officer will turn the open Ballot Box upside down and shake it in front of the Poll Clerk and Indoor Agents to ensure that there is no trace of Ballot Paper in the box after he/she locks the box and declares his/her Polling Station open to the public. The Ballot Box is placed in plain view of all seated around that Polling Station table, and the Ballot Box key is kept on the Presiding Officer until it is handed over to his/her Supervisor at the end of the election.
At no time during the election day process can both officials (Presiding Officer and Poll Clerk) representing the Electoral Office of Jamaica leave the Polling Station at the same time to attend to any emergency such as using the bathroom. Hence, it is absolutely ludicrous and impossible for anyone to stuff the box with unofficial ballot papers without collusion with one or both of the Polling Station officials; and I am sure that no official would be stupid enough to put his/her character or freedom at risk to engage in or allow such unscrupulous activities to occur within that Polling Station. Furthermore, the Ballot Paper is designed in such a way that the Presiding Officer and Poll Clerk can keep effective track of the ballot issued to and received from the elector by recording in the Poll Book the serial number of the ballot given to each elector and serial number of the ballot returned to the Presiding Officer by elector before the Presiding Officer removes the counter foil containing the serial number and place the elector’s ballot into the Ballot Box in the presence of the elector who will first have to immerse his/her right index finger in the Electoral Ink before his/her ballot is placed into the Ballot Box.
In addition, the identity of each elector is highly examined by the Presiding Officer and Poll Clerk by matching the photo on the elector’s voter ID with the photo on the Electoral Official Voters’ List; and in the event that an elector comes without his/her voter ID, then the Presiding Officer will look for the elector’s name in the Electoral Black Book, check to see if the photo in the Black Book and Official list matches the elector, ask the elector a few personal questions about him/herself from the Black Book, and proceed administering Form Oath 11 which includes taking the elector’s fingerprint (Index and Middle Finger on both hands) and have him/her sign the oath if that elector was successful in answering most of those personal questions in the Black Book. Now, after all that is done, then the Presiding Officer will proceed to put his/her initials on the next consecutive ballot, instructs the elector how to mark his/her X beside the candidate of his/her choice, and then give the elector the ballot to go mark his/her X behind the Voting Booth and with the pencil provided—the normal procedure for electors who present a voter’s ID. Other oaths will be administered in the event of an elector being unable to mark his/her X and requires assistance from a friend or the Presiding Officer.
Regarding the design of the Ballot Paper and the ‘correct’ way for an elector to mark his/her X for the candidate of his/her choice, I must say that based on my understanding from all the election training sessions that I have attended over the years, the ballot was designed for electors to mark the X in the square empty space to the right of the symbol (example: the Bell for the JLP, and the Head for the PNP) representing the party for each candidate running for election. However, I assume that in an effort to exercise great latitude of leniency towards electors, who are hell-bent on being disobedient or ignorant in marking the X to the right of the party symbol, the Electoral Office implemented a window of leniency where a ballot can be accepted if the elector marked the X to the left or on the party symbol of the candidate running for election. I have no problem with that window of leniency in principle, except for the fact that I think such a window will only further contribute to the plethora of other windows of leniency throughout society that allow many citizens to find a safe haven in not wanting to go the extra mile in educating themselves or simply abiding by the proper instructions given to them by officials representing any organization. In supporting my argument, in the televised election advertisements for both PNP and JLP, electors were instructed to put the X (showing it being marked to the right of the party symbol) beside the Bell or Head; and this implied instruction in the party’s advertisement was done because each party knows very well that the X must be marked to the right of the symbol. With regards to the fact that the Presiding Officer is the one in charge of his/her Polling Station in an election, the Presiding Officer has been bestowed with the legal authority to instruct the elector on how to properly mark the X on the ballot during the election opening hours, and reject any ballot that he/she deems was not marked properly by the elector according to his/her instructions when finally counting the ballots at the close of poll. The Returning Officer then has the legal authority to overturn any ballot rejected or accepted by the Presiding Officer during the Preliminary Count when the Returning Officer begins his/her Final Count of the ballots; and also, the Resident Magistrate has the legal authority to overturn any ballot rejected or accepted by the Returning Officer in the Magisterial Recount.
In exercising the legal authority given to me as a Presiding Officer in the elections I have worked, I am one of those Presiding Officers who rejected ballots that were not marked according to how I had instructed the electors to mark the X on the ballot; and I did so in the presence of my Poll Clerk and the Indoor Agents while explaining to them the basis on which I rejected those ballots, as well as explaining to the Indoor Agents that the Returning Officer has the legal authority to overturn my decision in the Final Count. Also, I was so resolute in not exercising such window of leniency because I am one of those who believe that people must be forced to be literate in this highly unruly and under-educated country if we are to ever stand a chance of seriously defeating the ills and illiteracy in this country. We are doing far more harm to our society every time we find ways to reduce or erode good consistent standards or order simply to provide windows of leniency for those who are hell-bent on being unruly or embracing illiteracy; and that will only intensify the horrific cycle of pushing the country over the precipice of irregularities, unruliness, and crime. However, what I would like to recommend to the Electoral Office in order to alleviate the prolonged debate on whose decision was right or wrong as it relates to rejected ballots, is to redesign the ballot paper in one of the following ways: 1.) Insert a clearly defined square box to the right of the party symbol for the elector to mark his/her X, or 2.) Put the party symbol to the extreme right of the ballot, thus leaving all the empty space to the left of the party symbol for the elector to mark his/her X. Any of the aforementioned solutions will definitely standardize and eliminate the rejection or overturning of rejected ballots because of which side of the symbol the elector marked his/her X.
When I compared our system of elections with other systems of election in foreign countries such as the United States of America, I must say unambiguously that Jamaica’s electoral system is completely in alignment with the ‘Of the people, By the people, and For the People’ system of Democracy, and that is only before the elected members form the Government and start imposing laws and policies on the electorate without any regard for their approval or disapproval. I say so because Jamaica’s electoral system does not have any oligarchy called Delegates and Super Delegates, who have the ultimate power of overturning the candidate of the American voters’ choice in order to impose a candidate of their (Delegates and Super Delegates) choice on the voters at what is known as a Convention, which is held immediately after the American voters have spoken with their votes at the polls. Hence, in Jamaica, the candidate who has the most votes at the end of the election is the person who will be awarded the office or position he/she ran for in the election. On the other hand, the candidate who has the most votes in America’s election will not automatically be awarded the office or position; because the votes of the American people do not have any significant power due to the fact that the contest is all about which candidate can amass the most Delegates and Super Delegates, with Super Delegates having the supreme power of voting against the candidate with the most American votes or Delegates accumulation. Delegates in America are simply high profile officials such as politicians and party officials; and Super Delegates are simply senior Delegate members. That is why it is highly possible for the current front runner of the Republican Party, Donald J. Trump, to lose the Presidential Nomination if he wins the electoral votes but falls short of the 1,237 Delegates; and a similar and more corrupt scenario applies to Bernie Sanders on the Democrats’ side, where Super Delegates are hell-bent on giving Hillary Clinton the Presidential Nomination.
In closing, let me quickly explain the management, final chain of custody, and transportation of the Ballot Box at and after the close of poll. After the Presiding Officer completes the process of counting the ballots, packaging the ballots in the appropriate envelopes, completing the relevant paperwork, and having the Poll Clerk and Indoor Agents sign off on all sealed envelopes, the now locked and sealed Ballot Box and the envelope containing the Ballot Box Key are handed to the Polling Location Supervisor. The Supervisor will collect all the Ballot Boxes in his/her Polling Location and safely place them inside his motor vehicle for transportation to the Electoral Regional Office in that constituency. In the Supervisor’s vehicle will be an Indoor Agent for each candidate, and the Presiding Officer may go with them. The Supervisor’s vehicle is escorted by the Police and/or Military all the way to the Electoral Regional Office without any stopping along the journey. Hence, there is absolutely no room for Ballot Boxes being stolen or thrown out of the vehicle. Ok?
Garth ‘Sub-Zero’ Allen
Remember to share this article on Facebook and other Social Media Platforms. To submit your own articles or to advertise with us please send us an EMAIL at: [email protected]