Jamaica’s system of governance is based on representatives elected by voters in constituencies defined by geographical location. The Representation of the People Act, ROPA stipulates that electors must vote in the constituencies in which they are resident.
In addition, there is the agreement that the number of constituencies into which Jamaica is divided is to be increased to an odd number. Accurate data is absolutely essential in the decision making with respect to where constituencies are to be added as well as how electoral boundaries are to be drawn. The principles determining constituency allocation to Parishes and the drawing of constituency boundaries, within the limits set by the Constitution of Jamaica, were recommended at a Retreat in June 2005, confirmed by the political parties and approved by the EAC.
THE OLD SYSTEM
Up until 1997 Voters’ Lists were compiled as a result of house-to-house enumeration exercises usually carried out just before an election. The Voters’ List so compiled remained in place until the next enumeration. Persons who were not on this Voters’ List, or who came of age after the enumeration, had to wait until the next enumeration in order to be put on the Voters’ List. Each enumeration exercise discarded the previous Voters’ List and created a new one from scratch. The many shortcomings of this system led to its abandonment.
THE NEW SYSTEM
Since 1999 we have had the system of Continuous Registration. Starting with the 1997 Enumeration Exercise as the base, electors are continuously added to the Voters’ List as they come forward to register. The Voters’ List compiled as a result of the Continuous Registration involves a very transparent process. Applicants go to EOJ Fixed Centres and apply to be registered. Each month the EOJ gives the lists of persons applying to be registered in each constituency to representatives of political parties recognised by the EAC. EOJ staff members along with scrutineers appointed by the political parties make unscheduled visits to the residences of those who applied in order to verify that these applicants reside at the addresses given.
Two Voters’ Lists are published every year. There are no Supplementary Voters Lists that appear at the last minute. Whenever at the election is called it is contested on the last published list, which is never more than six months old.
As a mark of the progress that has been made in producing Voters Lists in the manner outlined, in 2002 President Jimmy Carter said that of all the countries visited by the Carter Centre to observe elections, Jamaica was the only country where the Voters’ List was not in dispute.
THE SHORTCOMINGS OF THE PRESENT SYSTEM
Notwithstanding the improvements made the present system has shortcoming. The Continuous Registration process has proven to be far more efficient in adding new electors to the List than in removing dead electors. Further, it has not been accommodating of electors who have changed their addresses. Because a few electors die every day and many more move from the addresses at which they were registered, some degree of inaccuracy creeps into every Voters’ List immediately after it is published. Further, left to accumulate over time the degree of inaccuracy grows and has the potential to compromise the principle of representative democracy based on constituencies.
The amendment to the Representation of the People Act, which brought the Continuous Registration system into being, anticipated these shortcomings and their potential danger to the principles on which our democracy is based. The ROPA therefore prescribes that from time to time it will be necessary carry out a house-to-house exercise. The Residence Re-verification currently being carried out is the first house-to-house exercise that is being done since the Continuous Registration system was implemented.
DESIGNING RESIDENCE RE-VERIFICATION
In designing this first house-to-house exercise since Continuous Registration was implemented, the EAC had to take account of several important considerations.
- First, to retain and keep all the good work that had been done in constructing the Electronic Electoral Database starting with the results of the 1997 Enumeration Exercise and the contributions of Continuous Registration.
- Second, to carry out the process in the most transparent manner so that the political parties and the public in general would have confidence in the results.
- Third, to carry out the process in such a thorough manner that the result would represent the most accurate Voters’ List possible.
- Fourth, to employ the most cost-effective way of determining where each elector on the Voters’ List currently resides bearing in mind that a high proportion of electors had changed their residence since 1997.
IMPLEMENTATION OF RESIDENCE RE-VERIFICATION
A nine-month Residence Re-Verification exercise was planned to start January 2005, but funding was not available until the Fiscal Year beginning April 2005. However, seized of the importance to start the Re-verification as early as possible, the EAC approved the start of the Pilot in the planned seven constituencies by the EOJ in March 2005 using equipment and funds provided for the Electronic Identification of the Voter and Balloting Issuing System, EIVBIS. The rollout to remaining 53 constituencies began in July.
The implementation of the Residence Re-verification has not only been hampered by a later start than originally planned, but also by three hurricanes that affected the island and violence in some communities. Accordingly, the timetable for the completion of the exercise has shifted to March 31, 2006 with the results of Re-verification being reflected in the May 31, 2006 Voters’ List.
The First Phase
The First Phase which was started in March 2005 was completed in all constituencies by early January 2006. Re-verification Teams visited the residences of all 1,413,794 electors on the May 31, 2005 Voters’ List. Of this number the Teams Reports showed that 1,348,986 electors were still alive, while 64,816 had died. The First Phase data also showed that 369,663 persons, or 26.1 per cent of electors, had moved from the addresses given at the time of Registration. Of this number 122, 282 were found at their new addresses while the remaining 247,379 were not found. In addition, the First Phase data showed that 97,124 persons were either not at home at the time of repeated visits by the Re-verification Teams or were indisposed for a variety of reasons and could not accept the visit by the Teams.
The Second Phase
The Second Phase started in January 2006. It involved quality assurance checks by the staff of the EOJ, supported by selected Verifiers, of the data gathered during the First Phase. No scrutineers from the political parties are involved in this Second Phase.
The Second Phase was modified to include radio and newspaper ads inviting those persons who were not at home at the times that the Teams visited and persons who had changed their residences to call or come to the Fixed Centres. In addition, the EOJ mailed registered letters to the 247,379 who have moved and have not been found. The Second Phase ended on February 28.
The Third Phase
The Third Phase began on March 1. Re-verification Teams are back in the field. Those electors not yet verified, but with documentary proof of their residence should take those documents to the Fixed Centres in their Constituencies. Documents that will be accepted by the EOJ are light bills, water bills, telephone bills, property taxes receipts, and mortgage payments. At that time of the visit to the Fixed Centres electors with proof of residence can arrange scheduled appointments by the Re-verification Teams. Electors without documentary proof of their residence can call the Fixed Centres and request to be re-visited. The standard unscheduled visits will be made to these electors by the Re-verification Teams. This Third Phase ends on March 31.
The political parties will be given the list of all electors not found in the three phases and asked to locate them if possible.
The Supplement and Sittings
A newspaper supplement will be published with the names and addresses of those electors not found by any of the processes employed by the EOJ by March 31, 2006. The Supplement will include the dates and times for the Sittings to be held in the various constituencies. Those electors who do not attend these Sittings will have 10 days contact the Returning Officers. Electors not complying with any of the above will not be carried forward to the May 31, 2006 Voters’ List.
It must be noted that because of the system of Continuous Registration those electors who are not carried forward to the May 31, 2006 Voters’ List are entitled to reapply for registration at their convenience at any time after May 31, 2006.
We are therefore appealing to all electors who were not found by the Re-verification Team or EOJ Staff, to take the time to call or visit the EOJ Fixed Centre in the constituencies in which you now reside. It is the desire of the EAC to include every eligible Jamaican on the Voters List. However, those electors who have not made themselves available to be re-verified by this comprehensive and painstaking exercise will not be carried forward to the May 2006 Voters List.
Thank you for your cooperation.
February 8, 2005