‘One man, one vote’ not assured

Electoral Boundary Commission finalises report

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The creation of single-member
constituencies, in which every registered voter would only cast only one vote,
is not mandated by the Cayman Islands’ Constitution, but is an issue for the
Legislative Assembly to deal with.

Electoral Boundary Commission
Chairman Carl Dundas re-emphasised this week that the creation of a ‘one-man,
one vote’ system is not automatic, as he confirmed progress on the commission’s
report to the Governor Duncan Taylor.

Mr. Dundas, Attorney Adriannie Webb
and former MLA Norman Bodden were given the task of reviewing the boundaries of
the Cayman Islands’ electoral districts and making recommendations regarding
the proposal for 18 elected Members of the Legislative Assembly. Cayman
presently has six electoral districts and 15 MLAs.

The report was to be presented to
the governor by the end of May. However, Mr. Dundas said on Monday, one of the
commissioners is off-island the last 10 days of this month. The report will be
“as good as finished” by the original deadline, but each commissioner should
have a final read-through, he indicated. The new target date is the end of the
first week in June.

“The issue of ‘one person one vote’
was not part of our terms of reference,” Mr. Dundas pointed out. The
construction of boundaries has nothing to do with the voting system.

“We made a great attempt to explain
that,” he said, referring to the give-and-take format of public meetings held
in every district. “I’m not sure we succeeded.”

He commented on a general
impression: “People think we can say to authorities ‘one person, one vote’ and
that will happen at the next election. But that is not so: the Legislative
Assembly has to deal with the issue. They thought it was automatic and we had
to say no.”

Electoral boundaries and the voting
system are separate and distinct issues, but they are very intertwined, Mr.
Dundas commented.

Discussions at public meetings in
North Side on 10 May and in East End on 11 May made the distinction even more
emphatically.

Ms Webb pointed out that the number
of 18 elected members was decided by the Constitution that came into effect
last year (after voters accepted it in Cayman’s first referendum). “The
Constitution does not say single member constituencies. That is not part of our
mandate. That is changed by the MLAs.”

In East End, Mr. Bodden put it this
way: “One man, one vote… That is left to the politicians.”

In fact the Constitution sets out
only the number of members of Cabinet, the number of members of the
Legislature, the qualifications to stand for office, qualifications to vote. It
is the Elections Law that names the electoral districts and specifies how many
members shall represent each electoral district. It is the Elections Law that
gives the voter in a particular district the right to mark his or her X for as
many candidates as that district has seats.

In 2003, the mandate for the
Electoral Boundary Commission was different, Ms Webb pointed out.  That commission divided the Cayman Islands
into 17 single-member constituencies. Those recommendations were never
officially accepted. However, the Elections Office did use the work to revise
“polling divisions” because the numbers of voters in each were roughly equal.
Voters went to polling places within those divisions in their districts.

In reviewing boundaries this year,
there are many levels of changes that might be made, Mr. Dundas stated. One
change might be recommending more electoral districts, Ms Webb said. Another,
brought up by Mr. Bodden, could be changing from “a straight line drawn across
a map” to a boundary that conforms with lot numbers so that voters’ properties
aren’t divided.

“I have not seen a lot of
enthusiasm for having existing boundaries changed,” Ms Webb remarked.

In East End, Mr. Bodden noted that
Savannah/Newlands was the fastest growing area of Grand Cayman; he asked
people’s views on creating new districts based on numbers. He also pointed out
that, in terms of the ratio of registered voters to representatives, George
Town appeared to be entitled to six representatives. But if Prospect or Red Bay
became a separate district, there would not be the perception that George Town
as the largest district would control the formation of a government.

Ms Webb did not see a problem,
although she agreed that the representatives from the larger districts could
get together and form the government. “Even if we go to single member
constituencies, is it going to be much different? It will be a majority of elected
members who get together and form the government,” she said. As to the
“coattail effect”, she did not see that changing. “You’re still going to have
strong personalities who can influence voters” about whom they should vote for,
she said.

“Maybe we need more voter
education,” Ms Webb concluded: “Vote for the good of the country and not just
the district.”

All three commissioners said the
various opinions they received would be included in their report. Mr. Dundas
said one was that the proposed three new seats should be determined by a
national vote. “I don’t think we can take that too far — only put it forward
as a view expressed.”

The three commissioners in various
ways also spoke of the need for fairness. The Constitution requires that they
take no account of racial distribution of voters; that they do take account of
natural boundaries, existing boundaries and, as far as practicable, across all
electoral districts, an equal ratio between the number of representatives and
the number of voters. The exception is for Cayman Brac and Little Cayman which,
between them, shall at all times return at least two members to the Legislative
Assembly.

Mr. Dundas said fairness means each
voter having an equal opportunity to influence government. One concern Mr. Bodden
said the commissioners had was the number of eligible voters who refused to
register. In North Side, Bo Miller suggested that was because young people felt
disconnected, while Stanley Panton said the number one reason was people not
wanting to be polled for jury duty.

One concern expressed by a member
of the public in East End was for the process by which the commissioners’
report will reach the Legislative Assembly. Mr. Dundas said if modifications
were made, the premier would have to give reasons. Mr. Bodden added his
assurance after noting that the procedure is laid out in the Constitution: “The
report will not be taken lightly or dealt with haphazardly.”

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Electoral Boundaries Commission chairman Carl Dundas speaks at a recent public meeting.
Photo: Norma Connolly
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