First public electoral boundary meeting held

The Electoral Boundary Commission
held its first public meeting on Monday night to gauge public opinion on how
voting districts in Cayman should be redrawn to accommodate the creation of
three new parliamentary seats.

Fewer than 20 people attended the George
Town meeting at Mary Miller Hall on Monday night, but the meeting attracted current
and former politicians for the district.

The three-member commission was set
up following the introduction of Cayman’s new constitution, which stipulates
that the Legislative Assembly should have 18 members rather than the current
15.

The commission is tasked with
reviewing the electoral district boundaries and submitting a report to the
Governor and the Legislative Assembly containing its recommendations for
changes in the boundaries.

It will be up to the Legislative
Assembly to implement any recommendations made by the commission.

Commission Chairman Carl Dundas
laid out the guidelines relating to boundary making, saying it would be fair to
parliamentary candidates and would take into account existing and natural
boundaries.

He said there would be no
gerrymandering “whereby the boundaries are constructed in such a way that it
benefits one side or the other”.

He also assured the public that
their views, as well as the opinions of candidates, on how the boundaries
should be constructed and what kind of electoral system should be in place,
would be noted by the commission and reflected in their final report.

Mr. Dundas said the commission
would include in its final report the views of the public on whether to adopt
single or multi-member constituencies.

Members of the Legislative Assembly
for George Town Ellio Solomon, AldenMcLaughlin and Mike Adam attended the
meeting, as did former George Town representative Lucille Seymour.

Some audience members called for
the additional three seats in the Legislative Assembly to be added to George
Town and Bodden Town as they had the largest and fastest growing populations.
George Town and West Bay both have four legislative representatives, Bodden
Town has three, the Sister Islands have two, and East End and North Side each
have one.

One audience member, a voter in
Prospect in the George Town electoral district, said her neighbourhood did not
seem to rank high in the priorities of elected politicians in George Town.
Because of that, she said she saw a benefit of one-member constituencies in
smaller areas.

“You cannot reasonably expect four
people to manage a population of 20,000 people and the needs of the different
pockets in that community,” she said of the existing George Town four-member
electoral district.

Ms Seymour said she also supported
a single member constituency system. “I find with us as four persons
representing George Town, we can get away with perhaps a certain echelon voting
for you to get in, but I believe if you had responsibility for 700 or 800
persons, you are forced therefore to be more integrating and to be more
inclusive,” she said.

Audience members supporting
single-member constituencies rose concerns about the unfairness of voters in
North Side or East End getting only one vote as those districts have just one
representative, while voters in George Town get four votes, saying some party
members in the larger constituencies were being voted in on the “coat tails” of
their party colleagues.

Others suggested that a
single-member constituency system would make representatives more accountable
to their voters and would also lead to a higher quality of candidate. Another
suggested the three new legislators should represent the entire of Cayman,
rather than individual districts.

Commission member Adriannie Webb
acknowledged that redrawing the boundaries and changing the electoral system
would be an emotional issue for voters. “People are very resistant to change.
People have voted like this for a long time, how do you think they are going to
react if perhaps the law changes and they have only one vote, that will create
a little bit of havoc,” she said.

Asked why a politician in a
single-member constituency would be more accountable than an elected member
from a multi-member district, commission members said representatives would be
accountable to a smaller number of people in a specified geographic area and
could be identified as being associated with a particular neighbourhood.

Ms Webb said of politicians in
current multi-member constituencies that it was “human nature to shift blame…
and say I am not the only one, there are four of us”.

Norman Bodden, the third member of
the commission, said he believed the performance of representatives of either
single or multi-member constituencies would be judged by the electorate in
elections. “I think that person would be as conscious in any system that they
have to do a good job,” he said.

He said the constitution made
provision for district councils and for representatives of districts who were
not members of Cabinet to have the views and needs of their districts channelled
to Cabinet.

In 2003, an Electoral Boundary
Commission was set up to redraw Cayman’s electoral areas into 17 constituencies
with a view to each constituency would return one member to the Legislative
Assembly. Its recommendations were never implemented.

Since the 2003 EBC report, the
number of registered voters in the Cayman Islands has increased by some 33 per
cent, from 11,483 to 15,330.

Asked at the end of the meeting if
he had received all the information and feedback he had hoped to get from the audience,
Mr. Dundas replied: “I think I have gotten more than what I expected. The
issues raised are very relevant and will give us an opportunity to maybe look beyond
what we have been contemplating so far.”

The second meeting of the
commission was scheduled to be held in West Bay on Tuesday night. Two meetings
will be held on the Sister Islands on Friday – one at the Little Cayman Beach
Resort from 10am to 1pm and the next at the Aston Rutty Centre on Cayman Brac
from 7pm to 9pm.

Meetings scheduled for May are:
Monday, 3 May at Bodden Town Primary School Hall; 4 May at Savannah United
Church; 5 May at John Gray United Church Hall; 6 May at the South Sound Civic
Centre; 10 May at North Side Civic Centre; and 11 May at East End Civic Centre.
These meetings will begin at 7pm.

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