Lawmakers begin debate today on the key question of how the constitutional referendum will be worded and they are also expected to consider how many ‘yes’ votes would be required to approve the draft proposal.
The question on the ballot, according to the Referendum (Constitutional Modernisation) Bill, 2009 released last week is as follows: ‘Do you approve the draft constitution which was agreed by the Cayman Islands constitution delegation and the government of the United Kingdom on 5th February, 2009 and tabled in the Legislative Assembly of the Cayman Islands on 11th February, 2009?’
In other words, the draft document agreed to by the UK earlier this month is what voters will be deciding on. Voters can mark a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ box on the ballot to indicate their choice.
The Referendum Bill must be passed before the country can legally hold a public vote on the constitution. Thus far, ruling party lawmakers have said the referendum date will be 20 May, the same date as the country’s general elections.
The 20 May date is not included in the text of the Referendum Bill.
The bill, as it was released on Thursday evening, requires a majority of all eligible voters to approve the proposed changes to the constitution. That means a majority of the 15,386 registered voters in the Cayman Islands, or 7,694 people, would have to vote ‘yes’ on the plan, regardless of voter turnout.
However, Education Minister Alden McLaughlin said that language is from an earlier draft of the Referendum Bill and should have been taken out. He said the government would propose an amendment to the bill requiring a simple majority ‘yes’ vote only from those who participate in the referendum in order to make the constitution draft law.
Mr. McLaughlin admitted that requiring more than half of all registered voters in the islands to vote ‘yes’ might be difficult, especially if turnout was low.
For example, if only 10,000 people voted on the constitutional referendum, more than 75 per cent of those people would have to say ‘yes’ to reach the 7,694 number and pass the draft document.
If the ruling government’s amendment passes, the constitution could receive approval with only 5,001 of those 10,000 voters saying ‘yes.’
The amendment proposed by the government in the Referendum Bill would allow the constitution to pass more easily than what would be required to approve a voter-initiated referendum under the draft constitution.
The constitution allows voters to petition government on a topic of ‘national importance,’ but they must first obtain the signatures of 25 per cent of all registered voters on the petition. After that, more than 50 per cent of all registered Cayman Islands voters would have to say ‘yes’ to the referendum question.
The group People for Referendum, which has long pushed government to allow voter-initiated ballot measures, said the ruling party’s Referendum Bill amendment ‘debased’ the constitution to the level of a common law. Group member Billy Adam also said making voter-initiated referendums achieve a higher standard than the referendum for the draft constitution was ‘a fallacy.’
‘That just shows…how desperate they are to get this constitution through,’ Mr. Adam said.
The People for Referendum group have suggested that the constitution should be approved by a two-thirds majority of both Caymanian voters and members of the Legislative Assembly before it becomes the law of the land.
Most of the rules that apply for a general election will be maintained in the constitutional referendum, with a few exceptions. One of the differences is that limits on campaign spending will not apply.
There will also be referendum observers appointed to oversee the various polling locations selected by government. Those observers will have to be separate from the ones chosen for the general election. Elections Supervisor Kearney Gomez said his office will need a large number of volunteers to serve on 20 May if both the general election and the constitutional referendum are held on the same day.