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By East Portland standards, the percentage voter turnout in the recently held by-election was moderate. At approximately 54.34 percent by the 5 p.m. close of polling, the percent of voters who turned up was lower than the over 60 percent predicted by the two political parties.
Voter turnout off to a slow start
Apparently, morning showers hampered the early hours of voting so the turnout started slowly. However, the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) reported a voter turnout of 25.28 percent by 11 a.m. Eventually, voter numbers picked up afterward to result in the final 54.34 percent turnout reported.
Historically voter turnout was high
Historically, voter turnout in East Portland was, up to the 1989 General Elections, consistently high. This level of voter participation in the polls ranged from a low of 68 percent in 1959 to a high of 86.9 percent in 1980. The 1980s General Election had the distinction of being one of the highest national voter turnouts in Jamaica’s electoral history. That was the year the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) defeated the then ruling People’s National Party (PNP) by a remarkable landslide.
Furthermore, the voter turnout pattern experienced in the Portland Eastern Constituency mirrored the National pattern.
Subsequent to the 1989 General Elections, the proportion of eligible voters who turn up on Election Day fell. So, the period between the 1993 General Elections the 2016 General Elections saw voter turnout in the East Portland Constituency fall from a high of 60.8 percent in 2007 to 43.9 percent in 2016.
Incidentally, the same movement in voter turnout took place at the national level.
So, it was not surprising that leading up to the by-elections on April 4, 2019, both the JLP and the PNP were bullish in their predictions. The majority of East Portlanders would turn up to vote on election day.
For the Ann Marie Vaz team, a high voter turnout, in the region of 65 – 70 percent is advantageous. Significantly, this result would have been an election upset in this traditional PNP safe seat. Should that voter turnout occur, the prediction was for more than a 1,000- vote victory margin for the JLP.
On the other hand, the PNP predicted a turnout of between 60 – 65 percent. Interestingly, the PNP’s projection was more conservative than the JLP’s more optimistic outlook. It helps that since the 2007 General Elections the number of eligible voters in Portland Eastern grew by 40%. This means the number of East Portlanders who are eligible to vote moved from 25,910 to 36,315 in 2019. Following some fluctuations between 1944 (the year of Universal Adult Suffrage) to 1993, the number of eligible voters in the Constituency of Eastern Portland grew steadily over every election cycle since 1997.
East Portlanders voted in their numbers
While numerically eligible voters who cast their ballots increased every election since 1997 (except in 2016), percentage-wise, the proportion of eligible voters who voted shrank.
Notwithstanding the lower than predicted percentage voter turnout at East Portland, the number of eligible voters who went to the polls was phenomenal! So, numerically, the actual turnout in the Portland Eastern Constituency at approximately 19,734 was one of the highest on record. This voter participation level is comparable only to the record 18,229 in 1980 and 17,469 in 2011.
Clearly, the intense campaigning by both parties in this constituency paid off. Alternatively, the results in East Portland may very well be the natural tendency of residents to vote in high numbers. An intense campaign on either side would not make a difference in the voter’s decision to vote on by-election day.
Interestingly, the final election result – a 306 victory margin for the Jamaica Labour Party candidate Ann Marie Vaz demonstrates the almost even split of voters on each side.
It would be interesting to see how the voter turnout in Portland Eastern will be in the next General Elections.