Fisher points out complex issues to clean up voters' list

Senior staff reporter

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

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Director of Elections Orrette Fisher has emphasised the urgent need for a reverification process to start in order to clean up the voters' list, which has been a source of contention between the country's two major political parties for some time now.

But the process, Fisher argued yesterday, will be very complex because, in addition to people who have migrated, there is the problem of unreported deaths, and deaths reported with problematic information, such as the address where the person passed away instead of where they were registered as a voter.

“Since continuous registration started there are a number of Jamaicans who would have migrated and are no longer living in Jamaica, and therefore are not available to vote. This would naturally distort the statistics at the end of each election. The law requires that people who are on the list and who vote should do so in the area where they reside,” he said after the launch of political parties registration by the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ).

“There are persons who registered initially and are no longer living in those areas. Political parties complain that when they carry out their canvassing they are unable to find some electors in the constituencies,” Fisher explained.

“The third factor is that a lot of electors would have died and are still on the list,” he said, adding the people are of the wrongful impression that all deaths are reported to the Registrar General's Department (RGD), and that the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (EOJ) should therefore be able to easily remove those individuals from the list.

“But the fact is that not all deaths are reported to the RGD. In fact, most [deaths] that are reported are in cases where people need to probate a will. There is no law that requires that deaths be reported to the RGD,” he emphasised, noting that a burial order does not have to be issued by the RGD in all instances, but can also be obtained from the police.

Fisher further explained that even when the deaths are reported the person making the report doesn't always provide adequate information to identify the deceased individual, as there is not, at this time, a unique national identifier for Jamaicans.

The National Identification System (NIDS) is expected to fix this.

“For the time being, the information presented to the RGD is as provided by the informant, which means that the age (could) be incorrect. If somebody was living in Westmoreland but they died in Kingston while staying with a relative, the address given would be for the relative in Kingston, and not where the person was registered,” he said.

This therefore means that the EOJ has to do its own checks on any number of individuals bearing the same name to verify which elector it is that has passed away.

“With those three situations, we think that there is some need for reverification to remove those inaccuracies and start again from a level platform,” he stated.

There are now 1,905,278 Jamaicans registered to vote as at November 2017, or 80,868 more than were registered at the end of 2015.

Fisher told the Jamaica Observer that with $700 million carved out in the 2017/18 budget, preparation had been under way to start the process, but the ECJ had sought clarification on some aspects of the programme from the attorney general, and is still awaiting advice.

“Therefore, we were not in a position to proceed at this point in time until those clarifications are in hand. A decision was made to remove that $700 million from the budget at the time of the supplementary estimates. I am assuming, however, that the allocation will be made in the new budget,” he said.

The matter was raised recently in discussions between the Ministry of Finance and Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee. Deputy financial secretary in the Public Expenditure Division of the Ministry of Finance Lorris Jarrett explained at the time that plans to start the exercise in the latter part of last year had been re-prioritised due to new demands that came to the fore after the budget was approved.

Jarrett noted that the plan is to begin in the next financial year.

Yesterday, Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips, in his address at the launch ceremony, warned against the continued risk of compromising the electoral system, insisting that it was time to start voter reverification.

“The law provides that, at intervals, there could be a reverification process… the intention was (to have) intervals of about seven to 10 years. It was felt that there was a risk of the contamination of the list that would require periodic reverification as a way of ensuring general confidence in the electoral process,” Phillips said.

“I think that time has come. We were given assurances that provisions would be made to enable this process to start — it has not started, (and) we run a tremendous risk if people cannot have confidence in the list that provides confidence for the process,” he stated.

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