The Struggle of The EAC for Democratic Elections.

 

Robert Buddan.

 

Only last week the Senate passed a number of amendments to our election laws. This is just about the final act in preparing Jamaica for national elections. The polls show that the elections might be very close. This is all the more reason to have an electoral system of the highest integrity.

 

In its Twenty-Second year and after overseeing five general elections, the signs are that the Electoral Advisory Committee (EAC) in tandem with the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) have emerged from a long and very difficult period to  the point where they can promise the fairest elections since Universal Adult Suffrage in 1944. The EAC has promised Jamaica a world class electoral system, and I am confident that, after much trial and tribulations as we say, that promise now looks close to being kept. I can discern three periods of the EACís work.

 

The First Period: Readiness for Elections

 

When the EAC was established under Chairman Professor Gladstone Mills in October 1979, its mandate was to make the electoral system ready for the next general elections. This was held only a year after. In fact, the first Director of Elections, Carl Dundas, had only 10 months to get his work done.

 

The work of the EAC was far from satisfactory but attention then seemed to concentrate more on who won than on how the elections were conducted. For example, the short time did not allow for the introduction of photographing as part of the system of voter identification. At that time the PNP and JLP seemed mainly interested in releasing the enormous political tensions that had built up and by 1978-1980, both parties had come to the conclusion that the earlier this was done, the better.

 

In effect, the EACís existence mainly served to give the two parties and the country the confidence that elections would be held (against fears that Jamaica was going communist) and that the two parties would have bipartisan roles in overseeing the work of the EOJ.  Elections were held on the basis of the existing electoral structure without attempts at long-term reforms.

 


 

The 1983 elections however, showed that making the country ready for elections raised two kinds of complications. One involved the right of the prime minister to call elections when he wanted to against the state of preparedness to hold free and fair elections. The second was that readiness should not only mean administrative readiness but moral preparedness to provide orderly, peaceful, and fair elections. For example, the 1983 ďsnapĒ elections were held on the 1976 voterís list making it the most unfair of all Jamaicaís elections. The country needed not just to hold elections but to hold democratic elections. This would require longer-term electoral reforms.

 

The EAC identified a number of problems stemming from the 1980 elections:

 

- The need for a national identification system and photographs;

- Future registration on a centralised and continuous basis as against house-to-house enumeration;

- Improvements of finger-printing methods to prevent multiple-voting considering the breakdown of integrity lamps;

- The speedier supply of information to the political parties;

- Improving the quality and training of election officials, the machinery of the electoral office to co-ordinate field operations, its response time and strengthening of its supervisory personnel and staff;

 

The 1983 elections raised the separate but related issues of what constituted the state of readiness for elections and the practice of Ďcallingí elections. This last issue has constitutional implications but other aspects that relate to the time between calling an election and Nomination Day and the time between Nomination and Election Day are matters that can be dealt with legislatively.

 

Throughout the 1980's, economic management took precedence over electoral reform and reforms did not attract serious articulation until the 1990's.

 

The Second Period: The Agenda for Electoral Reforms.

 

By 1990, the conditions for longer-term structural reforms had become better and the urgency for them had become greater. The PNP had come back into government and the unacceptable state of the 1990 Local Government elections had caused Michael Manley to hold a special meeting with the Independent Members of the EAC. He expressed fears that electoral fraud could become widespread across the island if the problems were not attacked. He pledged the governmentís willingness to do everything it could to assist the EAC/EOJís reforms.

 


 

The Cold War had ended and more attention was being paid to democratisation, especially the ability of countries to organise free and fair elections. The Inter-American Union of Electoral Organisations was formed in 1991 and Jamaica became one of its nine original members.

 

The computer age had made the technology of electronic voting more widely applicable and Jamaica showed an immediate interest in this beginning in 1992.

 

With the passing of the ideological conflict between socialism and capitalism, political parties began to shift their contestation to moral issues of corruption, including electoral corruption. Added to the technological possibilities, the social and cultural misbehaviour of politicians, election workers and voters came under closer scrutiny.

 

In Jamaica, there were alarming signs that garrison constituencies were increasing in number and new forms of criminality were affecting the political process making reforms more urgent.

 

The EAC began to pay more attention to the possibilities of:

 

-A National Registration System

-Computer-based voting

-An Election Security Corps

-An Election Authority

-An Election Commission

 

 These would be further supported by:

 

-Peace Accords and peace initiatives

-Monitoring of Political Tribalism

-Election Observers

 

Most of the reforms were not actually instituted. It is now agreed that voter identification should be separated from a national identification system. The cost of electronic voting and the problems of identifying a company in which the country had confidence stalled this issue. A special security corps was mooted but it was felt that election security should remain under the command of the police working closely with the EOJ. The formation of an election commission would await constitutional reform.

 


 

However, the government did establish a Constituted (election) Authority for the 1997 elections to serve as a deterrent against electoral fraud and to provide for electoral justice. Peace accords were made, going back in fact to 1988.  A committee on tribalism was established and election monitors were employed in 1997.

 

In spite of political acrimony, a Don Anderson poll of late 1997 showed that 57% of respondents felt the EAC had done an average or a good job while 23% thought it had done a bad job in preparing for elections that year.

 

The Third Period: Action and Progress.

 

It has really been between 2000 and the present that real action has led to confidence in the progress of the work of the EAC and EOJ. While the current Director of Elections, Granville Walker, has been in his job since 1997, the current Chairman of the EAC, Professor Errol Miller, has held that position since 2000. These two men have provided strong leadership. Since this time, new independent members have been a part of the EACís team. The EAC has also reduced its complement of political representatives from four to two on the advice of the Carter Mission of 1997.  

 

I also believe that an important factor has been the lead by the JLP in the polls since 2000. The party has wanted early elections and unlike its behaviour in the past, it has not sought to complicate and cause controversy in the EAC as it has when behind in the polls.

 

The government has given early notice to the EAC/EOJ of elections this year giving it time to finalise preparations and the Carter Centre has acknowledged that the necessary funding required by the EOJ has been made available. The EAC and EOJ have made great progress in the two areas of difficulty that have bedeviled them the most: reforms and readiness.

 

All the political parties have expressed great confidence in what has been achieved. A clean slate of election officials have been selected and upwards of 20,000 election workers have been trained with increased pay for their work. This is probably the most important achievement because a strong case can be made that incompetent and partisan election workers have been largely responsible for election problems in the past.

 

The largest and cleanest voterís list has been prepared and circulated and voters can check the voterís list on the Internet as I have done. Voter IDís have been distributed (probably except for those voters added most recently). The party representatives have been particularly pleased about the list.

 


 

Polling stations have been decided as long ago as last year. This too is of great help since in the past new candidates have wanted to reopen the issue of the location of polling stations, or parties have wanted to move polling stations out of the strongholds of the other party.

 

There are greater fines for Presiding Officers who open polling stations late and possible bans of seven years. The number of persons who can accompany candidates to polling stations is limited to five. Election Day workers will be able to vote before election day. The length of time between the announcement of elections and Nomination Day has been increased to five days, and candidates will have more time to lodge complaints with the Constituted Authority.

 

Finger-print matching technology has now made it possible to eradicate multiple voting, transfer voting or the impersonation of voters. The EOJ now has the best ever computer data-base on voters to carry out regular revisions of the voterís list.

 

CAFFE hopes to have 1,000 election observers and the Carter Centre has already said it is very impressed by our progress. It is now up to us as citizens to stop voter intimidation and election violence. The police must help to control themselves and others in this regard. A world class election system needs democratic behaviour of the highest class on the part of citizens and the ball is now in our court.