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The House of Representatives on (May 29) approved amendments to the Representation of the People Act to, among other things, make it an offence for an elector to engage in “open voting,” that is, intentionally displaying their ballot paper to any person, thereby disclosing the candidate for or against whom they intend to vote.
The Bill is a companion measure to similar amendments to the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation Act, and the Parish Council Act, which were also passed yesterday. The revised Act, which provides safeguards for the physically challenged, as it concerns the secrecy of blind voters, also makes provision for the average number of electors in each polling division to be increased from 250 to 400. In addition, it stipulates that a political party must have gained at least five per cent of the seats in the House of Representatives, in order to be eligible to appoint election scrutineers. The Bill resulted from recommendations made to Parliament by the Electoral Advisory Committee in a 2006 report on Electoral Reform. The recommendations were aimed at improving the efficiency and security of the taking of polls.
Minister of National Security and Leader of Government Business in the House, Dr. Peter Phillips, pointed out that “the mischief which this amendment seeks to remedy is two-fold. First of all, it seeks to prevent the intimidation of potential voters, who may feel or may be imposed upon to openly display their ballot in circumstances where failure to do so may result in violence being perpetrated against that voter; and to prevent fraud and bribery where a person’s vote would be sold and monies paid over on the condition that a ballot is displayed as confirmation that a voter has voted in a particular matter.”
Under the amended Act, where a person votes and openly displays their ballot, the presiding officer will be obligated to issue a warning and recover the displayed ballot, and then deface the ballot, rendering it “spoilt”. The presiding officer is then required to give the elector a new ballot. “If the elector were to behave similarly in relation to the second ballot,” Dr. Phillips explained, “they would then be guilty of an offence for which they would be liable, upon summary conviction before a resident magistrate to a fine of not less than $20,000 nor more than $80,000, and or including imprisonment for a period of not less than three years nor more than five years, with or without labour, or liable to both the fine and imprisonment”.
Turning to the provision to increase the number of electors in polling divisions, he noted that, “this will result in significant financial savings as the increase will result in a reduction in the number of polling divisions. Concomitant with this decrease will be a decrease in the number of persons to be employed as election-day workers, including presiding officers, poll clerks and indoor agents”.
Meanwhile, the amendments also allow an elector, who has a physical disability or who is blind, to request the assistance of the presiding officer, or a friend of the elector to mark the ballot in the manner directed by the elector in the presence of the poll clerk, and of the sworn agent of the candidate, or of the sworn electors representing the candidates. “Where the elector opts to use a friend as his or her agent, that person may accompany the elector into the voting compartment and mark the elector’s ballot for him or her.this is on the basis of one elector and one friend, in other words, only one elector per agent or vice versa. The agent or friend of the elector will be required to take an oath, so it is not possible for you to declare all your voters blind or disabled and have someone mark the ballot for them,” Dr. Phillips outlined.
Where an elector suffers from a disability other than blindness, they will be called upon to take an oath as set out in the Act, prior to being allowed to exercise their franchise.
Member of Parliament for North East St. Andrew, Delroy Chuck, while supporting the Bill, called for the banning of cell-phones in voting booths, pointing out that these could be used to photograph ballots, as proof of how a person voted.
He pointed out that presiding officers and indoor agents will have to make a decision as to whether or not a person has deliberately displayed a ballot, because, “we have to be careful that we don’t make the process more difficult for the people of this country.
So I’d ask that when the Electoral Commission advertises how this amendment will be prosecuted, we make it very plain that we are not trying to make it more difficult for people to vote, what we are trying to do is to remove the corruption and the fraud and the only way to ensure this is to make sure we have an election process of secret ballots.”

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