Cayman voting rights questioned

Cabinet ministers recently said that voting rights for the upcoming constitutional referendum would not be extended to non-citizens.

Responding to a reporter’s question during a 6 March press briefing about the potential for non-citizens to vote, Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said: ‘That in itself might require constitutional change.’

Works and Infrastructure Minister Arden McLean added that although roughly 14,000 people would be registered to vote this year in a country with an estimated population of 53,000-55,000, that does not amount to disenfranchisement.

‘I keep hearing this word disenfranchisement being thrown around in this country,’ Mr. McLean said. ‘I beg to disagree. There’s no place that I can go to in this world; be it Russia, England, America or whatever, that I’m on a work permit and I’m allowed to vote in any general election.’

Actually, Minister McLean, as a citizen of the British Commonwealth would be allowed to vote in United Kingdom Parliamentary elections if he established residency in the UK. In fact, he could run for political office there if he had residence and managed to get nominated by 10 parliamentary electors in any constituency.

However, Mr. McLean’s comment, in the general sense, was partly accurate. Voting privileges would not be extended in the UK to a foreign worker who was not a Commonwealth citizen or an Irish citizen.

According to the UK Parliament’s website, those who are age 18 or older on polling day can vote in Parliamentary elections if they are: British or Commonwealth citizens who are resident in the UK, citizens of the Republic of Ireland who are resident in the UK, Northern Ireland citizens who meet certain residency requirements, British nationals who have lived abroad for less than 15 years, and UK military personnel serving overseas.

In the United States, federal laws prohibit non-citizens from voting in presidential or congressional elections. However, some US cities have adopted laws that allow non-residents who are in the country legally to vote in certain local elections like those held for school board or city council positions.

There are other countries that do allow legal residents who are not citizens to vote in local or even national elections in some instances.

The issue of non-citizen voting rights has been a difficult one for countries around the world both historically and in recent times. According to research data examined by the Caymanian Compass, About 20 countries allow non-citizens to vote in at least some elections. Other countries have actually rescinded the voting rights of non-citizens due to public opposition to allowing foreigners to vote.

North America and the Caribbean

One of the countries that precluded non-citizens from voting in federal elections, in the 1920s, was the United States.

According to research done by Ronald Hayduk of the City University of New York, Manhattan Community College (published November 2004), for the first 150 years of its existence, the US allowed legal resident non-citizens in 22 states or federal territories to vote in city, state, and federal elections. The right was gradually repealed.

However, the US Constitution does not explicitly prevent non-citizens from voting.

Political Science Professor David C. Earnest of George Washington University wrote in an August 2003 survey that cities like Arlington, Virginia, and Tacoma Park, Maryland, were allowing resident aliens to vote in local school board or civic elections as early as 1991.

Mr. Earnest also points out that, although Canada does not allow non-citizens to vote in its federal elections, the provinces of Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia allow British citizens to vote in local elections.

In the Caribbean, Barbados is the only country that allows non-citizens to vote in national elections. Non-citizen voters in Barbados must be resident and citizens of the British Commonwealth.

Europe and others

According to Mr. Earnest’s research in 2003, the countries of Denmark, Estonia, Iceland, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Hungary and Switzerland all allow non-citizens to vote in local elections. Belgium, France, Germany, and Italy do not.

The United Kingdom allows voting in national elections by Commonwealth citizens and Irish citizens. The Irish also allow British citizens who are residents in Ireland to vote in national elections.

Down under, New Zealand is one of the few countries in the world that allows non-citizens who are legal residents to vote in national elections. Australia extended voting rights in national elections to British citizens until 1984 when that right was rescinded.

In Central and South America, both Uruguay and Chile allow non-citizen residents to vote in national elections. Non-citizens can vote in local elections in Belize and Venezuela. Votes on constitutional changes are allowed for non-citizens in Bolivia and Colombia.