‘Hold your dog, I’m coming in’

EE Registering Officer retires after 50+ years

After more than 50 years of service,
Esther Vernicia Watler has retired as Registering Officer for the electoral
district of East End.

The Elections
Office hosted a reception in her honour last week to say thank you and to introduce
her successor, Leisa Velonie Welcome.

Deputy Supervisor of Elections Orrett Connor joked to Ms Welcome, “I hope
you have as many years as Miss Vernicia, and if you do you’ll live a long
time.”

Miss Vernicia’s length of service
is so long, in fact, that no one can quite remember when she started. She
knows, however, it was before she married seaman Trevor Watler in 1957.

“I was solicited to be the registering
officer by the late Allen McLaughlin, who was in the Vestry at the time,” she
explained, referring to the old Legislative Assembly of Justices and Vestry.

“Mr. McLaughlin was my teacher and
I believe he knew I could read,” Miss Vernicia told the gathering of election workers and office staff. “I said ‘What do I
do?’ and he said, “Go house to house, find out how many people in the house are
over 18 and write down their date of birth.”

So Miss Vernicia went house to
house throughout the district, calling out as she approached each yard, “Hold
your dog, I’m coming in.”

Potential voters are now expected
to take the initiative and contact the district registering officer or the Elections Office, but in those days – especially before
telephones were common — the registering officer personally made contact.

The registration exercise was
carried out once every three or four years, prior to an election, so the work was not so pressured, Miss
Vernicia recalled.

Registering officers were not paid,
but after one registration period, she said, the official in charge decided
that they should receive six pence for each voter they had registered. “I got
enough money that I could buy one blanket,” she reported.

Times changed and Miss Vernicia
changed with them. Once or twice she “took a break” when voter registration
coincided with a new addition to her family. 
Otherwise, she was relied upon by a succession of election officials up to and including current supervisor
Kearney Gomez.

During those years, she said, she
and other Registering Officers formed bonds beyond friendship – “each one
willing to help the other.”  She also
thanked Magistrate Grace Donalds, who serves as revising officer, for explaining
things so well when claims or objections
were made. She admitted she would miss everyone and would come back to help out
if needed.

“Mr. Gomez told me, ‘If you’re
going to leave us, you have to help us find somebody to replace you.’ I have
found someone I can trust,” she said and called Ms Welcome to her side.

Deputy Governor Franz Manderson
presented Miss Vernicia with a plaque in honour of her service. He pointed out
that registering officers have to know many pieces of legislation in order to
carry out their duties – not only the Election
Law, but the Immigration and Naturalisation Laws.

Mr. Connor said Cayman has a strong
reputation for uneventful elections
and voter registration is where the process starts.

Mr. Connor chaired the informal
programme in the absence of Mr. Gomez, who was off -island.

Cayman Islands Registering Officers have new cell phone numbers as
of 1 January 2010.

West Bay: Darlene Owens-Elliott, 
516-4402.

George Town: Kathryn
Myles,  516-2117.

Bodden Town, Kerry
Nixon, 516-4478.

East End: Leisa Velonie Welcome, 516-4647.

North Side: Esther Patricia Ebanks,
516-4349.

Cayman Brac and Little
Cayman: Georgene Lazzari, 948-0343 (home).

LOCALelectionSTORY

Miss Vernicia and her successor, Leisa Welcome.
Carol Winker
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