No voting for electors in isolation for COVID-19?

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THERE are indications that when Jamaicans go to the polls on September 3, electors among the just over 200 individuals now in isolation due to COVID-19 will not be among them because of the public health risk.

There are signs, however, that electors among the more than 26,000 people currently in quarantine will be able to exercise their constitutional right, but under strict guidelines.

Director of Elections Glasspole Brown, in response to questions from the Jamaica Observer as to what will obtain with regards to people in areas now under quarantine, people in quarantine and individuals in isolation who want to exercise their franchise on election day, said: “Every qualified elector has the right to exercise their franchise and we will seek to ensure that we do whatever is in our remit to uphold their constitutional right.”

Brown further said that “protocols for safely voting during the COVID-19 pandemic have been developed in conjunction with the Ministry of Health and Wellness”, adding that “the document outlines the measures to be taken to ensure safety during the electoral process”.

“We also abide by the requirements of the Disaster Risk Management Act and any order of the Act that is in effect during this time,” Brown said in an e-mailed response to Observer.

Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton, providing an update to the media on Thursday, skirted the issue however, only stating that “the election protocols were discussed at the level of the Office of the Political Ombudsman”.

“There was general agreement around the elements of the protocol. I don’t want to get into the specifics of it except to say, in general terms, there was agreement. The final document really ought to come from the Office of the Political Ombudsman,” Tufton stated.

However, Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie, addressing the issue head-on, said: “I think, foremost in going through this election, we still have to remember that we are in a pandemic and that this is a public health emergency. This is new to us, in terms of the planning for how we operate. We are looking at the experiences of other countries, how they have handled this situation. Our discussions right now are looking at the allowance of persons who are in quarantine to vote, ensuring that all precautions are adhered to, and so we are looking at some guidelines for those precautions in terms of the person that is in quarantine,” the CMO said.

“We also have to look at the communities that are in quarantine to see what are the guidelines, and we also have to work with the Electoral Office [of Jamaica] to see how communities in quarantine voting can be facilitated, in terms of their safe movement. We have not started the discussions but we are looking in terms of how it is that that can be facilitated, and so we have to have some more discussions very shortly about that,” she added.

On the matter of those in isolation being allowed to vote, however, she said: “In terms of persons in isolation voting, we have just a little over 200 active cases of COVID-19 — many of them are in hospital, many are in State facilities, and some are in home isolation.

“A person that is in isolation is a person that is a threat to public health and, therefore, for us to allow that person to leave their facility of isolation and to go into the public knowingly, as a public health team, that would be very unwise, and so we have to have some discussions about this. This is a public health threat and this must be prominent in everyone’s mind, and therefore we are not going to be putting the public health at risk – certainly not knowingly and not willingly – to allow persons in isolation to vote,” Dr Bisasor-Mckenzie said.

Up to yesterday, Ministry of Health officials said confirmed cases of COVID-19 stood at 1,082 with 245 active cases, seven moderately ill patients, and one critically ill patient. In addition, there were five persons in quarantine at government facilities while 26,175 are in home quarantine.

There are currently two parishes with communities under quarantine: Sandy Bay in Clarendon and Lower Summit, Church Corner and Bamboo River in St Thomas. These quarantine measures are expected to be lifted on August 20.

The Electoral Commission of Jamaica has, in the meantime, said a public education campaign will be undertaken to create awareness of the procedures and protocols for COVID-19 safety on election day. This, it said, will include reminding electors to wear a mask, sanitise, maintain physical distance, and to leave the polling location immediately after they have voted.

Also, on election day posters will be placed at polling stations to remind electors of the safety measures and to encourage electors to maintain safe practices. Distance markers will also be placed at the polling stations and one-day police will ensure that the six-foot distancing protocol is adhered to.

All electors must wear a mask and have their hands sanitised. Special teams will be placed at the entrance of polling locations to ensure compliance and there will be frequent sanitisation and cleaning throughout the day, the electoral commission said.

Meanwhile, electors are being reminded to take their current voter ID card to the polling station on election day. Electors who cannot locate their voter ID card, however, will still be allowed to vote, provided they answer the questions of the presiding officer and take the required oath. Current voter ID cards, meaning those with an expiry date of 2017 or after, are valid until December 2020.

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