More time to register to vote

Concerned some new voters could be disenfranchised, Cayman Islands government officials said last week that they would extend a voter registration deadline for the upcoming constitutional referendum until the end of February.

Kearney Gomez

Elections Supervisor Kearney Gomez. Photo: File

Elections Supervisor Kearney Gomez had previously said registration for a May or June referendum would have to be completed by 1 January in order to publish voting lists by 1 April, as the law requires.

However, Mr. Gomez said Thursday that government planned to take the exceptional step of passing a temporary change in the law to allow voters to register through February. He said the voting lists would still be published on 1 April.

‘We wanted to make sure that everybody who wanted to be registered could be registered,’ Mr. Gomez said. ‘This is the Christmas season and a whole lot of people won’t be paying much attention.’

The change in the registration deadline would have to be approved by the Legislative Assembly. Mr. Gomez said it was likely that issue would be taken up at the assembly’s next meeting in February.

He also noted legislators would have to approve a Referendum Law to allow the voting to proceed in May. Only Caymanian-born citizens or those who have been granted Caymanian Status and who have been naturalised here are eligible to vote.

Registration is required to vote as well. However, only new voters and people who have moved from their previous voting districts need to register.

The referendum is a crucial step in modernising Cayman’s constitution. Officials plan to use the vote as support when they take the revised constitution, which is expected to give more power to the elected government, to the United Kingdom for approval.

Government’s proposed constitutional reform will be released in early January. The plan’s release will be followed by a series of public meetings and consultation.

The announcement about changing the registration deadline was made by Constitutional Review Secretariat Director Suzanne Bothwell on Radio Cayman’s Talk Today programme Wednesday. Earlier in the day, the Caymanian Compass had carried a front page story reporting the referendum date of May 2008.

That date caught some in the community by surprise, even though Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts had announced it in a 30 November policy address to the Legislative Assembly which was broadcast live on television and radio.

Billy Adam of the People for Referendum group said the months between January and May wouldn’t be enough time for people to digest government’s proposal and suggest significant changes before the referendum occurs.

Ms Bothwell disagrees.

‘I think that four months between January and May is quite enough time for them to decide what views they agree with and what they don’t,’ she said. ‘Many people have been complaining the process is too slow.’

She also pointed out that Cayman’s general elections are currently scheduled to be held in May 2009, and that government wanted to leave enough time between the referendum and the election to negotiate with the UK.

‘I don’t think that it’s prudent for us to drag the initiative too long because we don’t want it interfering with the election process in 2009.’

The last time Cayman’s constitution with the UK underwent wholesale reform was in 1972. Mr. Tibbetts said only a few minor changes have been made since then.