‘The franchise’: Meaning and importance

1. What is meant by ‘the franchise’?

In constitutional law and government, the franchise is the right to vote.

2. How important is the franchise?

The franchise is the very foundation of democracy and freedom. It ensures that the Government is of the people, for the people and by the people. By reason of the franchise those who exercise power and authority are selected by the people and are answerable to the people.

3. Do Jamaicans have a legally protected franchise?

The franchise was extended to all adult Jamaicans in 1944 when Universal Adult Suffrage was introduced. At that time all Jamaicans, 21 years old and over, were given the right to vote in national elections. The age was reduced to 18 in 1972.

4. Is the franchise protected by the Constitution of Jamaica?

Yes. The Charter of Rights guarantees the right of every citizen of Jamaica who is qualified to be registered as an elector to be so registered and who is so registered to vote in free and fair elections.

Section 37 provides that every Jamaican citizen who is resident in Jamaica, at the time of the registration of electors, and a Commonwealth citizen who has been resident in Jamaica for 12 months immediately preceding the date of registration is qualified to be registered as electors.

5. How is the franchise implemented?

The franchise is protected by legal rules and procedures which ensure periodic registration of eligible voters and elections which are free and fair and free from fear.

6. If a Constitutional Referendum is held, will Jamaican citizens have the right to vote?

Yes, all who are registered as electors would have the right to vote. Essentially, the same voters’ list and electoral machinery must be used.

7. What is the value of my vote?

In a democracy the principle is each person, one vote, which means each person’s vote shall be of equal value. In elections in which there are single member constituencies and the person elected is the one who obtains the most votes, it is important that the constituencies be fairly defined so as to prevent what is called gerrymandering or the manipulation of the geographical boundaries to give an unfair advantage to particular candidates.

8. Ho
w is the right to exercise the franchise protected in practice?

The right to vote is effectively protected by the placing of the responsibility to conduct elections, register voters and declare which candidates are elected in the specially constituted Electoral Commission of Jamaica, which comprises independent members and representatives of the two major political parties.

9. Have we treated the franchise as important?

The number of persons voting in elections has been declining and at the last general parliamentary elections only 37 per cent of eligible voters voted. This is highly unsatisfactory and a danger to democracy.


Should the Electoral Commission be entrenched in the new Constitution?

Send feedback to editorial@jamaicaobserver.com