The mechanics of the referendum

The Elections Office team is as ready as it can be for Cayman’s first-ever referendum, but some work cannot be done until the Legislative Assembly passes a Referendum Law.

Supervisor of Elections Kearney Gomez said he has already recruited the people who will staff the polling stations, which the logistics team can set up within 24 hours.

On Wednesday, Mr. Gomez and Deputy Supervisor of Elections Colford Scott discussed other preparations by the Elections Office. ‘We are providing the mechanics of the referendum,’ Mr. Gomez said.

What is needed now is a decision about the date in May on which the referendum will take place, so that polling station workers can arrange to be off from their regular employment. A related question for both poll workers and voters is whether the day will be a public holiday, as General Elections are. The Referendum Law will have to address this point.

Employers will need reminding that they are obliged to allow employees reasonable time to vote and they may not make any deductions from pay for that time off.

Also arising is the issue of alcohol. The Elections Law states that no alcohol may be sold or given away from the opening of polls until one hour after the close of polls.

The exact wording of the referendum question must be decided so that the Elections Office can arrange for ballots to be designed and printed.

Once a Referendum Law is in place, Mr. Gomez said, the Elections Office will issue a formal schedule of events, including any deadlines for postal ballots and, possibly, mobile voting.

Meanwhile, the Elections Law will have to be amended to extend voter registration until the end of February for persons to be eligible to vote in May. Otherwise, the registration period will have ended on 1 January.

On the actual day of the referendum, the procedure will be similar to what happens in an election. The polling hours will be the same – 7am to 6pm — and the public will not be allowed to congregate within 100 yards of polling places.

Instead of candidates and agents being in the polling stations as scrutineers, observers appointed in advance will be able to, in Mr. Scott’s words, ‘see every action of the presiding officer during the polling process.’

Observers will also be allowed during the counting of ballots. Mr. Scott, as returning officer, will be in charge of the counting.

He will announce the outcome in terms of numbers of votes. But, Mr. Gomez emphasised, the Referendum Law must indicate what majority or percentage can be considered a mandate from the people.

Mr. Scott cautioned that some polling places may not be the same as they were for the last election, held in May 2005 – eight months after Hurricane Ivan. Some venues, such as Pedro Castle, were a temporary arrangement because of damage to the buildings usually used.

Polling places will be announced in good time, both men said.

Mr. Gomez moved into the Elections Office on a full-time basis on Monday and will stay there until the end of May. Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Communications, Works & Infrastructure, he will maintain oversight but has handed over his duties to his deputy, now Acting Permanent Secretary Jennifer Ahearn. Working with her is Ms Leyda Nicholson-Coe.

Working with the Elections Office as another Deputy Supervisor is District Commissioner Ernie Scott in Cayman Brac and Little Cayman.

Mr. Gomez said Deputy Supervisor Orrett Connor would not be involved in Elections Office activities for the referendum because of his position as Cabinet Secretary.

FYI

People qualified to vote may register at six locations around Grand Cayman on the next few Saturdays. Registering officers will be at Hurley’s in Grand Harbour and all four Foster’s Supermarkets from 9am – 1pm.

Staff will also be at Kirk House on Albert Panton Street in downtown George Town from 10am – 2pm.

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