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#JaVotes2020 | Sweating And Hand-Wringing As Vote Count Begins


Source: Jamaica Gleaner

Image caption: Former People's National Party (PNP) candidate, John Junor

Ever wonder what happens in the mind of a candidate after polls are closed?

Three former parliamentarians who experienced both the joys of victory and the agony of defeat say that the hours between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. (the closing of polls and the announcement of results) can be very long and unsettling.

The People's National Party's (PNP) John Junor, for instance, who won four general elections on the trot in Manchester Central, recalled being in the counting centre in 1989 and beginning to sweat when most of the voters appeared to be going for the Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) Cecil Charlton.

Junor was facing an opponent who could have been described as ‘Mr Manchester’. Doubt started to erode his initial confidence when he visited the counting centre at the courthouse after the polls closed.

“Because my strongest areas are farthest from the counting centre, when the results were coming in, your stomach goes through all kinds of contortions. It was then that I heard someone at the front of the courthouse proudly proclaim, "Lift your eyes unto the hills, Junor said. He won by 729 votes and was subsequently re-elected three times.

Reflecting on his first loss, in the 1980 election, Junor said that he went to a usually strong area in Vineyard Town, St Andrew South East, about 5 p.m. There was a massive political tremor.

“Very early that afternoon, I realised that I had lost. The PNP had lost,” he said of his contest with Allan Isaacs when the JLP won 51 of the 60 seats.

Junor said that waiting on the results in the earlier days was much more difficult than now. When voting ends, the ballots are tallied inside the polling stations, and indoor agents are given statements of polls. The returning officer then tallies these numbers and issues preliminary figures on the outcome of the election.

With modern technology, agents now send these results to the candidate, who does a tally of the out-turn in each polling division to inform himself of the possible outcome long before the seat is declared.

“After the election, as soon as the tallying of the votes is completed, you want to get to your indoor agents in the individual PDs to find out the number of votes cast.

“You take that, and it will give you a good indication of whether you have won the election or not,” Dr St Aubyn Bartlett said.

“If you have a count that is way, way higher than your opponent, then you can start celebrating. If the count is close, then you better not celebrate because it might not be the right count,” added the veterinarian, who won St Andrew Eastern twice (2002 and 2007) and lost Manchester Central in 2016.

Ernest Smith, who represented the JLP in five elections, two of which he won, said that anxiety heightens in razor-thin, high-stakes races, which carries over even after the polls have been closed. Looking back at his days in active politics, Smith said that the most difficult challenge was in 1993 when his constituency office in Brown’s Town was shot up three days before the general election. Rupert Sinclair, a member of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, who was assigned to Smith as his bodyguard, was killed in the attack.

“I am very nervous about the seat because if I were at the office at the time, I would have been killed. I was very nervous, and I was very anxious right to the end,” Smith said.

He lost the 1993 and 1997 elections in St Ann North West before shifting to St Ann South West in 2002, where he won for the first time. He was re-elected in 2007 but suffered a shock 822-vote loss to Keith Walford in 2011.

“I did not expect to lose. I know that a lot of my own JLP people campaigned against me … but I don’t have any ill-feeling about it. You win some, you lose some,” he said.

The attorney, who is still involved in politics behind the scenes, said the hours between the close of polls and the announcement of results are normally a time for reflection.

“You reflect for a moment. Did I do enough? Did I fall short? Did my people really live up to my expectations and do what they should do? All of that emotion will come to mind but not for a long time,” he said.

The former MP’s daughter, Marsha Smith, is the JLP’s candidate in St Ann North East. With the PNP’s Keith Brown her challenger, Ernest said he has advised his daughter to take election day one hour at a time.

“If you are going to pack up too much things in your head and start stressing, you won’t be around at 5 o’clock. … Remain calm,” Smith said.

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