Legislators spearheading the drive to implement single-member districts and one person, one vote in the Cayman Islands said they were pleased that Premier McKeeva Bush chose to call a referendum on the matter, although they said Mr. Bush is stacking the deck against the success of the ballot measure.
“We are delighted that he has actually called the referendum,” North Side Member of the Legislative Assembly Ezzard Miller said. “We have some concerns about the way he has chosen to frame the referendum and the question, and we think it’s a little bit unusual for a government to call a referendum and then immediately launch a campaign against it.”
Mr. Bush’s press secretary Charles Glidden said the plan is for a motion to be brought May 9 in the Legislative Assembly regarding the referendum bill, and a vote will be held May 10.
According to the Elections Office, the bill will closely follow the procedures prescribed for general elections, for instance, allowing people to vote using mail-in ballots or at mobile polling stations.
‘A tall order’
Mr. Miller and East End MLA Arden McLean said they would have preferred for the premier to set the bar for approval at the majority of votes cast, rather than the majority of registered voters – a tough standard, they say, considering many voters will be away on vacation when the election is held Wednesday, 18 July. However, Mr. Miller noted that Mr. Bush’s standard for passage is the same as if a people-initiated referendum would have been forced by a petition drive.
“It’s a tall order. We believe it’s achievable. We believe that there’s enough support out there to win the referendum. We just need to go and make sure that people come out and vote,” Mr. Miller said.
Mr. Miller and Mr. McLean said the current system – where people in different districts have different numbers of representatives and cast different numbers of votes – is outdated, and that single-member districts and one person, one vote will be more fair and equitable. On the other hand, Mr. Bush argues the current system works and that the initiative is politically motivated and will lead to increased costs.
Mr. Miller said they will continue with the petition drive, as it gives them an opportunity to engage members of the public about the issue and provide them with information on the measure.
Mr. Bush has spoken out against single-member districts and one person, one vote, arguing that increasing the number of voting districts will increase expenses and foster divisions among constituencies. He estimated the cost of the July election will be between $350,000 to $500,000, not including the cost of a public education campaign before the election.
Mr. Miller and Mr. McLean said there will be little change in costs because each member already receives a constituency allowance to operate a district office. They also said the prediction of increased political patronage to individual districts in the form of additional post offices, police stations, fire stations, schools is unfounded.
“The premier needs to stop the political rhetoric, trying to manipulate the people of this country and their minds,” Mr. McLean said. If enough people vote on the referendum question, then presumably government would move forward with the districts recommended by the Electoral Boundaries Commission, Mr. Miller said.
“I am satisfied that the Electoral Boundaries Commission has done a superb job, a very credible job in dividing Grand Cayman into 16 single-member constituencies,” he said.
According to the commission’s 2010 recommendations, North Side and East End would each retain a single representative, and the two members would remain for the Sister Islands of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. Mr. Miller and Mr. McLean said they are not too concerned about government calling for a new commission and the possibility of North Side and East End losing representation. “They could try, but it would be a tough sell to find anything wrong with the boundaries commission’s report,” Mr. Miller said.