We pointed out in an editorial this past February that a referendum on single-member constituencies held prior to the next general election was virtually impossible to produce a binding result, at least based on the threshold required by the 2009 Cayman Islands Constitution for people-initiated referendums. To be binding, more people would have had to vote for single-member constituencies than voted “yes” in the referendum on the Constitution held during the May 2009 general elections. With a contentious issue such as “one man, one vote”, this just wasn’t going to happen.
People suggest voter turnout in Wednesday’s referendum was low, but the 57 per cent turn-out was entirely predictable. When other jurisdictions hold referendums outside general elections, they sometimes struggle to even reach 50 per cent – especially for referendums that don’t deal with the issue of independence. Rather than dealing with people, as general elections do, referendums deal with issues. Issues are not only less engaging than people, they can be difficult to understand, one reason it’s hard to get people out to vote in referendums held outside general elections.
It’s a shame those advocating “one man, one vote” couldn’t have been patient for another year and just allowed the referendum to take place the same time as the 2013 elections, as Premier McKeeva Bush initially suggested. If voter turnout for the upcoming election is near the 79.4 per cent that voted in 2009 and the same percentage of those voting “yes” in Wednesday’s referendum voted “yes” in a referendum held with next year’s general elections, the issue would have passed and been binding on government.
Of course, there’s no way to say how the additional voters would vote in a 2013 referendum and there’s a good argument to suggest most would vote “no” – if they voted in the referendum at all. However, we’ll never know the answer because Wednesday’s referendum occurred 10 months too soon.