Jamaica Observer: MONTEGO BAY, St James — The belief that corruption is rife among political parties surfaced as the number one reason the majority of voters continue to stay away from national elections, according to a survey conducted by noted pollster Don Anderson for the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ).

The poll results were shared by ECJ Chairman Earl Jarrett in an address to the 153rd synod of the Anglican Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands in Montego Bay last week.

Jarrett told the synod that respondents included voters and non-voters with each indicating their reason for not participating in national elections.

Among the other reasons offered by respondents were “no difference between parties”, “none performing effectively”, “no confidence in them”, or parties “make too many unfulfilled promises”.

Referencing voter turnout trends since 1962, the ECJ head said 1962 to 1980 figures revealed an average of 81.5 per cent turnout for elections.

The years 1989 to 2020, however, average 56 per cent, with a high in 1989 of 78 per cent and a low 38 per cent in 2020.

Registered voters moved from 796,540 in 1962 to 1,913,410 in 2020.

Those who voted increased from 580,517 in 1962 to 714,808 in 2020.

Voter apathy has been a concern for some time and fears about the threat it poses to the country’s democracy started to increase even more after only 30 per cent of registered voters cast ballots in the 2016 Local Government Election. The turnout then dropped significantly to 29.6 per cent in the February 26, 2024 Local Government Election.

Last week Jarrett disclosed that the Don Anderson poll also found that among the reasons Jamaicans decided not to vote was their view that “people do not benefit”, “none of them [political parties] helping the people”, “all politicians are the same”, or “politics too dirty”.

He said that the ECJ will continue its public education thrust in an attempt to develop an informed electorate with the intention that more of the approximately two million registered voters on the list will attend polling days.

Jarrett said that the ECJ manages a budget of $2 billion annually, which doubles in an election year to $4 billion, with 50,000 individuals working within the electoral system.

While not doing an analysis of the 2024 local government elections, Jarrett said the team at the ECJ and Electoral Office of Jamaica, led by Director of Elections Glasspole Brown, had performed creditably despite the delay that hampered finalising the results.

Meanwhile, he encouraged the church leaders and representatives present to make their facilities available for the various activities related to elections. These include training rooms as well as church halls for use as polling stations.

“We can’t have polling taking place in someone’s bedroom,” Jarrett said, as he suggested that making church spaces available should be seen as a part of ministry.

“Voting is not a spectator sport,” Jarrett said as he urged that church people recognise the importance of exercising their franchise. “If democracy is to work…it cannot be a spectator sport. You have to participate…fully; and, where necessary, volunteer to serve…”

The ECJ chairman assured his audience that data security is of significant importance to the body he leads, explaining that the ECJ had both fuelled and funded the system with the tools to install safeguards.

“The EOJ has the largest body of private data…and so we now have a responsibility to deal with that risk,” said Jarrett.

He added that the ECJ had invested in data servers and security infrastructure to undergird the programmes using the highest quality available tools to manage the complex data.

Responsibility for inspectorate of the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA) for the national identification system (NIDS) now falls under the ECJ.

This, Jarrett indicated, was out of recognition of the capacity of the systems in place to provide the oversight necessary based on the sensitivity of the data being managed.

“We welcome that responsibility,” Jarrett said, adding that the ECJ’s officers were committed to the task.