Low voter turnout marks local polls

At many polling stations, election day workers and security personnel far outnumbered the voters inside at any given time.

Unlike the December 29, 2011 General Election, there were no busloads of supporters accompanied by the usual fanfare of horns blowing and bells ringing, and very few voters turning up at the polling stations in their party colour.

In stronghold divisions, the dominant party’s outdoor agents sported the party colour while their counterparts were either not present or opted to wear neutral colours.

Half-an-hour after the 7:00 am opening of the polls, some polling stations had not seen a single voter and at others outdoor agents sat idly by waiting to assist the trickle of voters.

Only 50 persons had voted two hours after the polling stations opened at Windward Road Primary School in East Kingston for residents of the Norman Gardens and Springfield divisions.

Office manager at the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) Michele McGowan Edwards said the first voter did not show up until half-an-hour after the polls opened.

“It is the first I am seeing it so slow; it is even slower than normal,” she told the Jamaica Observer. “The most persons we have had at any one time is three or four.”

People’s National Party (PNP) councillor/candidate for Norman Gardens Division Angela Brown Burke and the member of parliament for East Kingston and Port Royal Phillip Paulwell were among the early birds to cast their ballots.

Brown Burke admitted that voter turnout was slower than normal but said she expected it to pick up throughout the day.

“There are some persons who believe they have done their duty having voted in the General Election, and so we have had to increase the public awareness to get them out for the Local Government Elections,” she said.

In the PNP stronghold of Windward Road, that party’s outdoor agents dominated the proceedings while the handful of Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) agents opted to wear white shirts.

A woman told the Observer earlier that green-clad Labourites are usually not to be found in this PNP enclave.

At Alpha Primary School in Central Kingston, the orange-clad PNP outdoor agents dominated with only a few green-clad agents sitting by patiently awaiting voters to come in to cast their ballots for candidates contesting the Allman Town and Rae Town divisions.

Outdoor agent for the JLP, Marjorie Vernon, told the Observer that the turnout was even lower than what has been the norm for Local Government Elections.

“The people dem get turn off, on both sides, because of di whole heap a promises and so dem don’t want to come out,” she explained.

She said in one polling division only four persons had voted nearly three hours after the polls opened.

PNP outdoor agent Tamara Reynolds also admitted that voting has been even slower than normal, however she was far more optimistic that it would get better throughout the day.

“About 80 persons have voted so far since morning,” she told the Observer nearly three hours after the polls opened.

The story was pretty much the same in the Rae Town Division where there were far more security personnel than voters.

At first glance there seemed hardly any need for the heavily armed soldiers and police who stood guard at the Holy Family Primary School on Highholborn Street as very few persons ventured unto the compound to vote during the Observer’s visit.

However, the political divide in sections of this inner-city cluster seemed to have warranted the security personnel being out in their numbers.

Soldiers and police alike spent the time keeping the precincts of the polling station sterile, ensuring that no one came too close to the gate unless they were there to vote.

One soldier was seen ushering children away from the gate and ordering adults who had already voted to keep their distance, while a police officer was kept busy refusing admittance to women who brought along their infants to the polling station.

At this polling centre, there were no orange-clad outdoor agents, and from the green-clad supporters who showed up it was clear this was a JLP dominated area.

One JLP outdoor agent, Jacqueline Sullivan, said she had no idea why the PNP agents had kept away from the polling station.

“I don’t see any of dem from morning,” said Sullivan, when pressed, adding hastily that they were not prevented from being there.

But just a stone’s throw away in the adjoining Tel Aviv community, the orange-clad PNP supporters converged in their numbers to offer support to their candidate, Ann Marie Morrison, who is hoping to wrest control of the division from the JLP’s Rosalee Hamilton.

“I am confident of a victory because people see in me a better candidate who won’t let them down and who will be here with them through thick and thin,” she told the Observer.

One of her supporters, Meva Henry, said by the end of the day the division would have a PNP councillor to work alongside the PNP’s member of parliament Ronnie Thwaites.

“We tun up di ting December 29 and we a go bind di ting today, March 26,” she said.

When asked why no orange-clad agents were at Highholborn Street the supporter became incensed.

“If dem nuh want we up deh we a go run weh di JLP dem from down here,” she said.

Meanwhile, in Port Royal, interest in the Local Government Elections was a bit more encouraging as a steady stream of voters showed up at Port Royal Primary and Infant School.

An EOJ supervisor who requested anonymity said she was surprised by the steady flow of voters.

“I am surprised that the people have come out for this election almost in the same manner as they did for the General Election,” she said, pointing out that more than a 100 persons had voted three hours after the polls opened.

Meanwhile, a JLP outdoor agent said more persons would have come out to vote had it not been for the water and housing problems the residents of Port Royal have had to be dealing with for some time.

“Some people just frustrated,” said the man, who identified himself only as Bobby.

The frustration has been made even worse, he said, by the fact that the JLP has not been able to wrestle the seat from the PNP in decades.

“Although we are predominantly Labourites over here in Port Royal we don’t win because our votes count with East Kingston,” he said, adding that this will never stop them from voting for the JLP.

In West Kingston, it was unusually quiet with only a few persons seen adorned in the party colour in the JLP stronghold of Tivoli Gardens.

Election Day workers said this is the lowest voter turnout they had experienced even for a Local Government Election.

At one polling station in Tivoli Gardens, only 200 persons had voted in all four divisions five hours after the polling stations opened.

“It is slower than normal and I don’t know if it will get any better throughout the day,” said the JLP’s outdoor agent Veronica Sewell Morgan, who explained further that the turnout had also been low for the December 29, 2011 General Election.

However, unlike some of the other polling stations visited, there was no significantly increased security presence with the few police sitting idly under a tree with nothing to do.



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