JAMAICANS head to the polls today for the second time in three months, to cast their ballots for local government representatives in 228 divisions across 63 constituencies.
A total of 478 candidates were nominated on March 5, with the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) fielding 228, one more than the governing People's National Party (PNP), said the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ).
Today voters will also have the choice of giving the nod to 15 Independents -- six candidates from the Marcus Garvey People's Progressive Party; one hopeful running on the Family Reunion House ticket; and another fielded by the Jamaica Alliance Movement.
Three candidates -- an independent, and one each from the JLP and PNP -- will also seek a 'thumbs-up' from voters to serve as mayor of the Portmore Municipal Council.
Director of Elections Orette Fisher said it's all systems go for today, promising smooth voting at 6,630 polling stations.
"Pretty much everything is in place with the polling stations opening at 7:00 am and closing by 5:00 pm," he told the Observer yesterday.
As for the Electronic Voter Identification and Ballot Issuing System (EVIBIS), which some voters blamed for lengthy delays in casting their ballots during the December 29, 2011 General Elections, Fisher said the system will be used in the exact same locations they were used but was confident it would not be problematic.
"I maintained that the EVIBIS performed as expected in terms of processing, so whatever challenges there were, they did not relate to the system," he said.
Meanwhile, Fisher said the accessibility of polling stations to physically challenged persons is not something that can be readily addressed as the EOJ has to use the public buildings which are available.
"We, however, use as many of the buildings on the ground floor," he said, explaining also that the EOJ has significantly reduced the number of tents it used as polling stations in the past.
The EOJ said the November 30, 2011 voters' list that was used in the December 29, 2011 poll, will be used today. The list has a total of 1,648,036 voters.
The two major political parties have also been signalling their readiness ahead of today's poll with both confident of victory.
Opposition Leader Andrew Holness said the party machinery is ready to contest this Local Government Election despite the crushing defeat in the December 29, 2011 poll and members are in a more energised state than expected.
"December 29 is behind us and so the worker core, councillor candidates, members of parliament and all the functionaries of the party are re-energised," Holness told journalists at a press conference on Friday. Thirty per cent of the party's candidates are new, with some 20 per cent being females.
"I have gone around the island and from what I have seen, the workers and supporters of the party are determined to have a good showing in this Local Government Election," he said.
"I am looking at a higher than normal voter turnout," Holness said, insisting that a large proportion of the electorate who did not vote in December for whatever reason will exercise that right today.
"It is wise for the country to focus on balancing the power by ensuring there is a JLP local government that sends a powerful signal that they (central government) can't engage in any extreme measures, frolic of their own, or any carelessness that could cost us on the national level," Holness added.
Up to late yesterday the PNP was doing final preparations to mobilise its supporters to turn out for the local polls which normally attract a low voter turnout.
PNP Deputy General Secretary Julian Robinson, who was at a workers meeting putting final arrangements in place, said the party is also confident of victory.
"We remain confident we will win majority divisions based on the results of the general elections, and the fact that we have been doing our work going from door to door to convince persons of the importance of coming out for local government, since we know we don't get the same level of voter turnout as in the general elections," he said.
Robinson dismissed the JLP's appeal for voters to balance power by putting the Opposition in charge of local government.
"The JLP has shown very little regard for local government reform and the process, and it's a non-argument to come now and say that, because the PNP has been committed to empowering councillors, ensuring they have the autonomy to deal with the issues," he said.
Jamaicans last elected local parish representatives on December 5, 2007, three months after the JLP won the general elections after more than 18 years in Opposition.
The JLP won all but four of the 13 parish councils then with the Manchester, Westmoreland, Hanover and St Ann councils going to the PNP. The party won 133 of the 227 divisions, while the PNP won 94 divisions. The number of divisions have since been increased by one.
Meanwhile, all public schools remain closed today as the majority of them will be used as polling stations.
"Schools are, however, asked to ensure that arrangements are made to recover this additional day, so that the 190 days (per school year), stipulated by the Code of Regulations can be honoured," said Acting Director for Communications in the Ministry of Education Sheryl Bromfield.
In the meantime, the police yesterday warned against traditional traffic breaches by drivers including allowing passengers to hang from the doors of motor buses, sit on top of motor vehicles, or have any part of the body protruding as parties bring out their supporters.