Election Day Work
Yesterday, election day (Monday,) I spent the day from 4 am until 7 pm
employed as a Presiding Officer in Polling Station number 62 of the
Kingston Central constituency.
This, after spending all day Sunday in a 10am until 8pm meeting being
re-trained, and briefed on the day we were about to spend at Kingston
Technical High School managing a portion of the voting process.
Jamaican elections are hard to describe.
They bring out the absolute best and the absolute worst in people.
They are nothing like elections in the U.S., which are pretty sterile, quiet affairs that could easily be missed by anyone not paying close attention.
Voting is quite an optional affair.
Here in Jamaica, we are never in any danger of forgetting. Elections are an all-encompassing affair, and election day itself at our polling station was filled with event after event of near-disasters, incompetence, street disturbances, fights, jokes, boredom and frightening moments. Nothing else I have ever done compares.
Thankfully, none of the big problems happened at P.S. 62.
By that I mean there were no gunshots, no injuries, no attempted bogus voting, no attempted ballot box stealing and enough food and drink to keep us alive, but always just a little bit hungry.
One of the funniest moments happened when a large magazine of bullets fell out of the M16 one of the soldiers guarding the facility was carrying. The loud clatter was enough to stop us all in our tracks and produced a quiet hush. He looked as guilty and as clumsy as a 16 year old dropping his bag of books.
It set off a round of head-shaking and tut-tutting, with some mutters here and there.
At the end of the day, however, it was free and fair. Someone brought to the station at gunpoint and forced to vote could still vote in secret for whoever they wanted, or for no-one at all by merely leaving the ballot blank. It is now a crime to show anyone a marked ballot, and if it is disclosed, the ballot is immediately spoiled.
This is a far cry from the good old days when certain constituencies would have a turnout of over 100% of the voters on the roll.
I recall the elections of 2000 when a friend of mine voting in West Palm Beach became a player in the drama that got George Bush elected.
She left the polling station thinking that something went wrong, because she was not quite sure which candidate received her vote. This became the basis of a national drama when some 3000+ votes for Al
Gore ended up going for Pat Buchanan. The result of that design was enough to make gore lose that precinct, the state, the electoral college votes, and the presidency.
Our elections in Jamaica in 2007 are much better run than that, better executed and are staffed by people who are willing to take personal risks in order to ensure a democratic process. Our votes remain
more passionate and far more engaged in the process of selecting leaders than I ever saw in the U.S.