There are several ways of gauging the health of a democracy. A free and safe voting process is one. Voter turnout is another. Judging by these criteria, Jamaica’s 2016 election had overall success with some areas of serious concern and room for improvement. We should also note that the media only covered the elections on a horse-race basis, meaning that they did not seem to be visiting polls to monitor the integrity of the process. (Or perhaps they did and I missed it. And this is not a judgment, merely an observation, as there are professional organizations charged with this task.)
While the Organization of American States says Jamaica is a “leader” in the region for the electoral process, a report indicates room for improvement. (The presence of international observers is common for federal elections, as are recommendations for better practices, even amongst mature democracies.) The following are issues to be considered in the election post-mortem:
- The OAS mission cited the use of “outdoor agents,” presumably party members who stand outside voting stations to monitor citizens, as an area of “concern“.
- Voter turnout was 47.7 per cent. Only one in two eligible voters cast their ballot.
- At least two polling stations were troubled with inaccurate or compromised counting of ballots and two others demanded recounts. The former two are St. Mary South East, which was actually called with a new winner, giving the PNP another seat, and St. Thomas West, which is still being recounted. (At the time of this writing, the JLP leads with 32 seats to the PNP’s 31 after a recount and has indicated it will ask for a magisterial recount. Only 40 of 63 polls are official, and one expert says the close margin could force early elections and cause general uncertainty. However, it should be noted that under the Westminster system of governance, as it stands, the JLP has been given the mandate to govern.)
- There appeared to be some confusion about how to mark ballots.While a seemingly easy exercise, any signs of confusion should be taken as a sign that a more clear process is required.
And now Portia Simpson Miller and Prime Minister-elect Andrew Holness has called on citizens to remain calm and the Jamaica Defense Force has called out its reserves for one week to help keep order. All in all, as far as the electoral process goes, it appears the health of Jamaica’s democracy could use some fortification. which is is the case with most democracies, although the degree is generally a measure of the maturity of the nation.