Current Affairs

Current Affairs




Bertram still out after 'new' ballots counted
JLP's Parchment gets more votes
Observer Reporter
Thursday, October 24, 2002


PREVIOUSLY uncounted ballots in the North-West St Ann election surfaced yesterday, but the development did not upset Verna Parchment's hold on the seat which she clawed away from Arnold Bertram in what has been the election season's most dramatic see-saw contest.

In fact, with the counting of the 'new' ballots, which were cast by police and soldiers, Parchment's majority over Bertram increased by two, to 171, electoral officials confirmed.

But there was no official explanation from either the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) or the Electoral Advisory Committee (EAC) how the returning officer for the constituency, Dr Robert Walker, had missed the votes, which were locked in a safe in his office, and failed to add them to the other constituency ballots for counting. Walker himself was last night unavailable for comment.

"At this stage it appears to be a genuine mistake," said an official of the ruling People's National Party (PNP).

But Parchment, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) candidate, cannot yet be certain of her place in Parliament, because the North-West St Ann constituency is one of three for which lawyers for the PNP will today file for magisterial recounts, hoping to overturn the declared outcome of the polls.

The other two seats which the PNP is challenging are North-West St Elizabeth where the JLP's J C Hutchinson, won by 120 votes against the PNP's Stanley Redwood; and North-East St Catherine where the JLP's Abe Dabdoub beat the PNP's Phyllis Mitchell by 673 votes.

In the October 16 general elections, the North-West St Ann seat was initially declared for Bertram, with a razor-thin majority of 26.

But four days later, after the official recount of ballots, the seat was decided for Parchment, a registered nurse. She had a majority of 169.

This recount had been the most dramatic event of the elections, with lawyers and officials for the PNP and the JLP haggling over every ballot at the official counting centre in St Ann.

With the arguments growing heated and tempers fraying on Saturday, Director of Elections Danville Walker ordered that all the ballots be brought to Kingston for the recount to be completed at his office at Duke Street. The recount was completed in the wee hours of Monday morning, giving Parchment 7,507 votes to 7,338 for Bertram.

But the returning officer, having returned to his St Ann base, discovered a sealed envelope with the ballots cast by members of the security forces who are registered in the constituency. Police, soldiers and most electoral officials voted five days before the rest of the country so that they could be free to manage the elections.

The votes of the security forces and election day workers are transferred to the appropriate constituencies so that they can be counted with the rest of the ballots. The 56 votes that were discovered yesterday should have gone to box #83, lawyers said. Officials declined to speculate on how the votes for the security forces might have been left behind while those for the electoral workers reached the appropriate ballot boxes.

Yesterday, those ballots were brought back to Kingston and the sealed envelope opened in the presence of lawyers for both the PNP and the JLP. In the end, Parchment got 29 of the 'new' votes and Bertram 27.

Parchment's final tally was 7,536 to Bertram's 7,365.

There appeared to have been no contention over the counting of those ballots, but PNP lawyer, Walter Scott, indicated on radio last night that the PNP would maintain its challenge to this, and the other two seats, by asking magistrates to count all the votes.

"The decision has been taken to go to a magisterial recount and that decision still stands," Scott said.

At a magisterial recount, both sides can bring legal arguments as to why a vote should be included or rejected from the count.

The JLP has indicated that it intends to file for magisterial recounts in three constituencies where PNP candidates won:

* South-Eastern St Elizabeth where Lenworth Blake beat Franklyn Witter by 73 votes;

* South-West Elizabeth where Danny Buchanan beat Derrick Sangster by 73 votes; and

* Eastern St Andrew where Maxine Henry-Wilson beat Phillip Henriques by 624 votes.