A Change for election day workers
Based on his experience in conducting the General Elections of 1997 the Director of Elections, Mr. Danville Walker, was convinced that a fundamental change had to be made with respect to Presiding Officers and Poll Clerks who conducted polls. His public statement to this effect in the latter part of 2000 was met with great skepticism concerning the capacity of the EOJ to recruit a large number of persons required. Some members of the two major political parties claimed that they had rescued the EOJ in the past by stepping in, almost at the last minute, to find persons who would perform these roles in the electoral process.
The new EAC decided to become fully involved with the Director of Elections in bringing about this change for three critical reasons. The fact that political parties contesting elections were the major source in recruiting Presiding Officers and Poll Clerks was highly undesirable even if the vast majority of such persons carried out their responsibilities competently and fairly. This practice left the conduct of the poll open to suspicion. Second, one of the legacies of the colonial era was that public institutions serving the mass the population invariably operated at sub-standard levels for those who served and those who are served. Third, the polling station and the persons who worked in them constituted the primary experience of, and sometimes the only point of contact with, the electoral process.
The main measures implemented by the EAC to fundamentally change the recruitment of Presiding Officers and Poll Clerks as well as to change the polling station experience were as follows.
- The EAC developed a profile which explicitly stated the competencies, reputation, attributes and interpersonal relations skills desired for Presiding Officers and Poll Clerks.
- The EAC shared this profile with the leaders of the Civil Service Association, the Jamaica Teachers Association, colleges, universities, student associations of colleges and universities, service clubs, and religious denominations.
- The EAC had breakfast meetings with the leaders named in 2 that discussed the profile; agreed on a quota of persons matching the profile that each organisation thought that it could meet. The leaders also agreed to contact and encourage such persons to offer to serve as Presiding Officers and Poll Clerks and to attend Town Meetings of the EOJ at which they could formally enlist to serve.
- The EOJ held Town Meetings in each Parish which were attended by persons contacted by the organisations named in 2. The Town Meetings were addressed by the Director of Election or an Assistant Director of Elections who explained the roles and responsibilities of Presiding Officers and Poll Clerk. One of the Selected Members of the EAC delivered the main address which outlined what the EAC was seeking to do to transform the electoral system; described the profile that Presiding Officers and Poll Clerks needed to satisfy; pointed out that the leaders of their organisation felt that they matched the profile; and stated the absolute necessity for polling to be conducted impartially, competently, with great dignity and to the highest global standards. Before asking the attendees to volunteer to serve by signing forms that had been circulated the National Pledge was recited, the National Anthem was sung and the Jamaican Flag saluted.
- A combined total of approximately 16,000 Presiding Officers and Poll Clerks were needed. Just over 24,000 persons volunteered. All volunteers were invited and paid to attend four training sessions. These four sessions covered the laws and procedures for conducting the poll; simulations of voting; tests of competence and assessments behavior under pressure and interpersonal relations skills. Following these four sessions just under 18,000 volunteers were invited to serve as Presiding Officers and Poll Clerks and to reside two additional training sessions between Nomination Day and Election Day. All volunteers were trained to perform duties as either Presiding Officer or Poll Clerk.
- While the two training Sessions between Nomination Day and Election Day revised election laws and procedures related to voting, particular emphasis was placed on treating all electors with respect and courtesy; addressing all electors as Sir or Madam; addressing all electors in standard Jamaican English initially and only speaking Jamaican dialect to electors who required to be address in the latter; strength in insisting that all electors, without exception, comply with the rules of voter identification and voting; and adhering to all rules of accountability that pertain to the conduct of the poll.
- The names of all who were selected and appointed to be Presiding Officers and Poll Clerks, by Parish, were submitted to Nominated Members for vetting and acceptance as suitable persons. Panels were established in each Parish to adjudicate objections and challenges to any person. These panels included Returning Officers for the parish and at least one retired Judge or Magistrate.
- The EAC recommended and the Parliament approved legislation such that Presiding Officers and Poll Clerks, called Day Workers, would vote on the same day as the Police and Military, that is, three days prior to Election Day. In effect this meant that the Official Voters List that candidates receive on Nomination Day, is later disaggregated into four sub-lists: The Police Voters’ List; the Military Voters’ List; the Election Day Workers Voters’ List and the Civil Voters’ List. The four disaggregated sub-lists adds up exactly to the Official Voters List for each constituency since all electors are only List once and must vote either three days prior to Election Day or on Election Day.
- The EAC approved the practice that Election Day Workers would not be assigned to polling stations in the constituencies in which they reside. Hence although Election Day Workers lived in all sixty constituencies, they had to perform their election duties in constituencies in which they did not reside. In constituencies that were found to be compliant with the Standards for Free and Fair Elections notice of the polling stations in which they would conduct the poll was only given to Election Day Workers three to four days prior to Election Day. Election Day Workers who were assigned to polling stations in constituencies found to be non-compliant only were informed of their assignments one to two days before Election Day.
- From the assessment of the Ten Standards of Free and Fair Elections, it was known that some electors that had not voted in person some of the fifteen constituencies found to be non-compliant. The leadership of the political parties recognized by the EAC were informed of the days and times that EOJ would conduct mock voting exercises in those constituencies so that electors in those constituencies would be informed that they would have to vote in person in the next General Elections and that they could receive experience and practice in voting procedures.
- Taking account of the fact that there are areas of some urban constituencies in which only candidates of one political party is confident to place Indoor Agents, during training particular Presiding Officers and Poll Clerks were identified as being capable to conduct the poll in such polling stations. These Election Day Workers were given additional training appropriate to these circumstances.
- The Director of Elections declared areas of constituencies where only candidates of one political party were likely to appoint Indoor Agents as Specialist Areas. Election Day Workers who were trained and assigned to polling stations in Specialist Areas were designated Specialist Election Day Workers. For the General Elections of 2002 Specialist, Election Day Workers were not told the polling stations to which they had been assigned. They were housed at hotels the night before Election Day and transported by Military convoy to those stations on the morning of Election Day and transported in similar fashion at the close of the poll. Only the Director of Elections and the Chairman of the EAC had prior knowledge of these arrangements.
Probably the most memorable aspect of the recruitment in preparation for the Oct 2002 General Election was that only 16 percent of those who volunteered and were selected as Presiding Officers and Poll Clerks were registered electors. This could be partly explained by the fact that a significant proportion of those who volunteered and were selected to serve were college and university students and young professionals were under 30 years of age and that voter registration in the 18 to 29 years age cohort has always been low. Another factor that cannot be dismissed is that many who offered to serve were persons who were outside the electoral process but answered the call to help to transform the electoral system. Interestingly, the vast majority who conducted the poll of the General Elections also volunteered for the June 2003 Local Government Elections. At that time over 90 percent of those who volunteered and were selected as Election Day Workers were registered to vote. It seems fair to infer that involvement in the electoral system had changed the relationship of Election Day Workers to the electoral system.
The low registration of Election Day Workers facilitated the process of voting of Election Day Workers on the same day as the Police and Military. However, in subsequent General Elections the vote of Election Day Workers became a mini-general election as a result of close to 100 percent registration and the inclusion of one-day security personnel at polling locations as Election Day Workers.