A referendum on the issue held in July 2012 failed, but it’s likely the subject of Cayman’s voting system will be raised again fairly soon after the 22 May general election, depending on who gets into office.
The Cayman Islands uses what’s known as a multi-member constituency voting system. According to the Elections Office, it’s one of about 15 countries in the world that use such a system.
Voters going to the polls on 22 May will get a certain number of votes, depending in which district they reside. George Town residents will get up to six votes; Bodden Towners four; West Bayers four; Cayman Brac and Little Cayman residents two; and North Side and East End residents one apiece.
In effect, living in the country’s most populous district gives a voter six chances to select their candidates, while living in North Side gives a voter but one choice.
“The situation we have on our hands now…is inequitable and unfair and, in my view, should not be acceptable in our democracy,” said Bodden Town independent candidate Charles Clifford.
What a change to single-member constituencies would do, under a 2010 Electoral Boundary Commission proposal, is chop Grand Cayman up into 16 separate voting districts. Two districts were proposed for Cayman Brac and Little Cayman.
The proposal was drawn up when Cayman had around 15,000 registered voters, so the numbers provided below are out of date with the voter rolls up to 18,492 ahead of the 22 May election.
Given that the numbers would have changed if the boundaries were drawn today, under the 2010 map, 14 of the 18 single-member districts created were all within 90 votes of one another. The largest two proposed single-member voting districts [George Town Central and George Town West] had 969 voters each. The two smaller districts among the 14 [George Town South and Newlands] have between 880 and 890 voters.
The other four of the 18 districts at the time the boundary commission did it’s work, North Side [571 voters], East End [599 voters], Cayman Brac West [491 voters] and Cayman Brac East [489 voters] were considerably smaller than the other 14.
Single-member voting districts are just like they sound; each district returns one member to the Legislative Assembly and each voter casts only one ballot.
Candidates have given varying views on the ‘one man, one vote’ concept. ”I do like the idea of single-member constituencies,” said Bodden Town independent Errington Webster. “I do think it’s fair for the voter, its fair for the representative.
“My concern is that, if we don’t budge this party system that we have adopted for the past three consecutive elections, we need to be careful how we implement that. Those constituents, those areas, are going to be very dangerous when it comes to colours with that system [referring to the traditional party colours sported by the political organisations, red for the People’s Progressive Movement, green for the United Democratic Party].”
Community Affairs Minister and People’s National Alliance candidate Dwayne Seymour said he views single-member voting districts as dangerous indeed.
“There’s a greater chance for corruption, less persons needed to get elected, some studies suggest you need about 175 votes, which can be easily bought,” Mr. Seymour said.
What he means by that is four candidates seeking office in a smaller district might evenly split the vote, making it possible that somewhere between 150 to 200 voters might carry the day.
“Now [in the multi-member districts] we need at least 1,000 or more [votes] so we need to work hard, roll up our sleeves and work for our money. We need to be careful of what we wish for.
According to Mr. Clifford, a supporter of one man, one vote, a smaller district means more one-on-one time for candidates with voters. It makes things more manageable, he said.
“Bodden Town is now the second-largest district in the Cayman Islands with 4,550 voters,” Mr. Clifford said. “Any politician who cares to be honest with you will tell you it’s very difficult to go around and see 4,550 people three or four times a month. We have to be realistic about it. If we had single member constituencies, each politician would have their own area of responsibility.”
Mr. Seymour countered that view with: “Will their salaries be lessened, if they are representing fewer people?”
Both Mr. Clifford and Bodden Town independent candidate Gregg Anderson have pledged that they would bring up the ‘one man, one vote’ issue in the Legislative Assembly if elected.
“It’s the truest form of democracy one can have,” Mr. Anderson said.
Giving each elector an equal number of votes need not be limited to a single-member districts model.
It is possible that the current multi-member districts could be maintained under a one man, one vote system. In fact, nothing about the current electoral system in Cayman requires a voter in a multi-member district to cast more than one vote anyway.
Other solutions have been suggested. For instance, Former Premier McKeeva Bush proposed a multi-member constituency system that would give an equal number of votes to everyone.
Mr. Bush proposed splitting Grand Cayman into eight, two-member voting districts to match Cayman Brac’s two-member voting district.
Other candidates, such as George Town’s Ellio Solomon of the United Democratic Party, have proposed national elections for all positions in the Legislative Assembly. In that scenario, all electors would still have the same number of votes, but could vote as many as 18 times each. George Town independent Winston Connolly, who supports the one man, one vote concept, said he would also prefer national elections for 18 people and a separate national vote to select a premier.
“But that is getting ahead of ourselves,” Mr. Connolly said.