Source: Jamaica Gleaner
At 5 o’clock this afternoon, polls closed, sealing the fate of the 139 candidates contesting Jamaica’s 18th general elections since Universal Adult Suffrage in 1944.
The Electoral Office of Jamaica now switches its focus to the counting of ballots.
There are 63 constituencies, the political regions into which voters are divided.
More than 500 polling stations are established in polling divisions, the further subdivisions of constituencies.
So what exactly happens when the polls close?
Glasspole Brown, the director of elections, said it is a crucial aspect of the elections process where valid votes are determined, leading to the preliminary declaration of winners and, ultimately, the next party that will form the government.
First, election day workers have to ensure that no one is in line to vote at 5 p.m.
If that is the case, their votes will have to be taken, after which the polling station can officially close, he said.
“There are certain forms that have to be filled out … then they will seek to again sanitise the room, and then the presiding officer will then proceed to open the ballot box in the presence of the polling clerks and the indoor agents representing the candidates.”
With the boxes opened, the ballots are counted and separated based on the candidate for whom they have been cast.
The presiding officer has the final say at this stage although any objection must be recorded.
Immediately after the count, the presiding officer and the polling clerks must take an oath on the veracity of the count, according to the Representation of the People Act (ROPA).
Also taking place is an audit of what Brown calls a "reconciliation", where checks are made under the watchful eyes of party agents to ensure that every ballot issued to the station is accounted for.
When the preliminary count has been finished, the ballots must be placed in separate envelopes, based on the candidates, and sealed.
Additional forms are filled out, including the statement of polls, which contains the votes each candidate received.
Into separate envelopes are placed the statement of polls and unused, spoilt, and rejected ballots.
Except for the envelopes with the statement of polls, all others, including the poll book into which all the day’s activities are logged, must be put into a larger envelope.
That mega envelope, along with the one containing the poll results, are sealed and then placed together into a ballot box, which is then padlocked and sealed by the presiding officer and the candidates' agents.
Copies of all the documents must be provided to the party representatives.
A supervisor ensures that the boxes in a polling station are assembled and then transported to the designated counting centre for each constituency.
According to ROPA, it is the presiding officer’s job to ensure that the returning officer receives the ballot box, its key in an envelope, the preliminary results, the polling station account on workers who are to be paid, records of electors, and the ink detection equipment.
Members of the security forces provide escort services during the transportation of ballots.
It is important to note that the boxes are not opened when they reach the counting centre.
The returning officer simply collates the numbers based on the statement of polls, declares the preliminary winner, and secures the padlocked-boxes for the final count, which usually starts the following day.
If there is a tie, the returning officer is legally empowered to cast the deciding vote.
At the final count, the process starts over, with exacting scrutiny of all ballots cast in the presence of candidates or their agents.
The law also allows for a candidate to seek a magisterial recount, which takes place before a judge.
“It’s a fairly simple process. Again, people need to be aware that what you get on the night is a preliminary count - just a matter of doing a tallying of the ballots as it relates to each candidate,” the director said.
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