Supporters of a yes vote in next week’s “one man, one vote” referendum are continuing to collect signatures for the petition that prompted the referendum in the first place.
Members of the One Man One Vote Committee, in an interview with the Caymanian Compass, said the signature collection in the Cayman Islands continues because it helps to draw awareness of the issues surrounding the existing and proposed electoral system and also encourages people to come out and vote on referendum day on Wednesday, 18 July.
Committee member Al Suckoo said the petition was still being circulated because it enabled “contact with people who may have questions and want to discuss single-member constituencies with us”.
“We already have enough signatures to trigger a people-initiated referendum, so if we are looking for a back-up plan, we have one, but the main purpose was to maintain the contact with people who want to discuss the initiative with us and help those people leverage other people,” Mr. Suckoo said.
Another member of the committee, Marco Archer, said, “It is also an effective tool for registering people who were not previously in tune to what was happening in the country. It would surprise you, the number of people who had the right to vote but just weren’t registered voters.”
The petition calls for single-member constituencies and a “one person, one vote” system to be implemented for the next general election in May 2013. According to the 2009 constitution, a petition with more than 25 per cent of voters’ signatures – about 3,800 – can trigger a people-initiated referendum.
The committee members say they are confident that the referendum will pass, despite, as Mr. Archer put it, “the deck [being] stacked” against that outcome, due to the voting regulation which stipulates that 50 per cent, plus one voter, of the entire electorate – rather than the number of people who actually cast a ballot – must vote yes for the referendum to pass.
“Historically, we’ve only had as high as 80 per cent voter turnout in elections. On the day of the referendum, if we should follow that statistic, we’re starting off 20 per cent behind, so we have quite a bit of ground to cover. The way the referendum is structured, if you do not turn out to vote, you are in effect voting ‘no’. The 20 per cent who choose to stay at home are in effect voting ‘no’,” said Mr. Archer.
“I’m very optimistic,” said Bo Miller, another committee member. “I think this referendum is going to pass and I think it’s going to pass by a margin that will surprise a lot of people. I really believe the Caymanian people want a more efficient, better system that is more accountable, that is fair and equitable and produces results.”
Based on the current number of registered voters, for the referendum to pass, 7,582 people must vote for it.
With the date for the referendum fast approaching, both sides of the argument are hitting the streets and the airwaves to make their arguments for and against the referendum question – which is “Do you support an electoral system of single-member constituencies with each elector being entitled to cast only one vote?”
They will also go head to head in a Generation Now debate on the issue at the Harquail Theatre on Thursday night.
Although the July 18 vote will be on a government-initiated referendum, Cayman Islands Premier McKeeva Bush’s government was prompted to hold the referendum as a result of public reaction to the petition organised by the One Man One Vote Committee.
“The people’s referendum took off like a rocket with all those signatures. As a result, the government changed its tune. At first, they said no referendum, and eventually when they found out we had the signatures, they said we’ll do it next year, and then said they’ll do it in July, so the government took control of it, but that was just smart politics by the premier,” Mr. Miller said.
Since the petition and the upcoming referendum brought the issue of “one man, one vote” to the forefront of public debate, the arguments for and against it have raged, with several other related electoral and constitutional matters being folded into the discussions.
However, the vote itself on 18 July is a straightforward matter, Mr. Archer said. “The issue is whether or not you would like a system of a single representative for your constituency, as opposed to multiple representatives for your electoral district … On the day of the referendum, if someone has understood and accepted that being in a single-member constituency and having one representative with whom they would have a much better relationship and. therefore, receive much better representation, they must vote ‘yes’. If they think it will not be in their best interest, they will vote ‘no’. It’s that simple,” said Mr. Archer.
Supporters of the “one man, one vote” option say it will bring more accountability to elected members of the Legislative Assembly and empower voters to have a greater voice, while opponents, which include the United Democratic Party government, say the existing system works well and does not need be changed.
Premier Bush has said that single-member constituencies would lead to “garrison communities” and promote division within the Cayman Islands.
The One Man One Vote Committee don’t see it that way. “Garrison communities arise from people who are disenfranchised and they want to take matters into their own hands. They feel as though they have no real representation in the political system. That can only happen if you allow it happen and this [referendum] is meant not to allow that to happen.”
The supporters of a new electoral system also refute arguments that the referendum is a tactic to break the political party system in Cayman as independent candidates may stand a better chance of getting elected in single-member constituencies.
“Look at other countries with ‘one man, one vote’, it’s centred around political parties. Look at the UK, where you have major political parties – Labour, the Conservatives, the Lib Dems … Barbados, Bermuda, Trinidad, Canada, the United States – they all have ‘one man, one vote’,” said Mr. Archer.
Mr. Miller said, “You will find more coalitions [in countries with ‘one man, one vote’ systems]. The UK has a coalition government right now. It makes people compromise and that what we need to do here … Coalition governments bring two extremes in the middle and say ‘if we don’t work together, we’ll go down like a sinking ship’ and we need to do that, too.”
Mr. Archer argued that single-member constituencies would prompt more candidates to stand in elections. “It will encourage other candidates to come forward, who may otherwise have shied away from being in a big rat race in a multiple-member constituency because they see some advantage to appealing to 1,000 people rather than to 6,000 and representing the constituency in which they live rather than a bigger interest across the entire district where they may not have such an interest. It certainly will not be a death toll for political parties.” In response to arguments from people living in West Bay, Bodden Town and George Town, where electors have four, three and four votes, respectively, that the “one man, one vote” system will give them less of a voice in elections, Mr. Archer said a single-member constituency system would return candidates who are more accountable to the people who elected them.
“There’s quantity and there’s quality. The quantity is clearly obvious because you can see four … When you reduce it to one, then the benefit of having just one is greatly increased because then you don’t have more in number, you have greater quality. I get one representative who has less people to deal with but is able to establish a greater relation with that less number of people and is, therefore, able to understand and achieve and at least argue for the needs of that constituency. That is what is forthcoming in this system,” Mr. Archer said.