It may be confusing for the average voter to grasp how a referendum proposition can pass with a significant majority of votes but still not be considered legally binding on the government.
However, that’s exactly what happened in July 2012.
The referendum question: “Do you support an electoral system of single-member constituencies with each elector being entitled to cast only one vote?” did not receive the required number of votes – 7,582 or 50 per cent plus one of the entire electorate at the time – to become legally binding on the government.
Final result: 8,677 people voted. Some 5,631 said “yes”, and 3,001 said “no”. Another forty-five ballots were not counted because they were not clearly marked. Nearly 43 per cent of the Cayman Islands voting public – 6,484 people –did not cast ballots in the referendum.
“The majority of people of the Cayman Islands voted ‘no’ by choosing to stay away in large numbers, rather than coming out to vote ‘no’,” Former Premier McKeeva Bush said late in the evening of 18 July. “The results clearly show that a majority of the people across the country rejected a change in the current system to single-member constituencies.”
The supporters of the ‘one man, one vote’ system don’t look at it that way.
“The vast majority of people who voted in the referendum do support single-member constituencies and the adoption of the principle of one person, one vote,” said Opposition Leader Alden McLaughlin says. “That is something that, while the government is under no obligation to implement, I don’t think it’s something that can be ignored, and just say ‘well forget it’.”
The way the numbers break down, those who actually bothered to turn out supported the one man, one vote concept nearly two-to-one over those who opposed it. Every voting district save one, Mr. Bush’s home district of West Bay, approved the referendum by a large majority. The supporters were foiled mainly because voter turnout was not high enough to reach the 50 per cent plus one vote that was required.
If it were held this month, the voter threshold to pass a similar referendum would be much higher than it was last year.
According to the Elections Office, 18,492 people are now registered to vote in the Cayman Islands. The 50 per cent plus one rule for referendums would currently require 9,247 ‘yes’ votes to make a referendum legally binding. Opposition Leader McLaughlin said the message from the 18 July vote was clear.
“The majority of people who are interested in the issue would prefer a system of single-member constituencies with one man, one vote,” he said.
The Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce, which had supported one man, one vote with single-member constituencies stated that more work needed to be done to “educate the people about the advantages of the new voting system”.
“It is now time for the Islands’ [residents] to set aside their differences on the issue,” a Chamber statement read. There is no requirement for government to hold a public vote on the one man, one vote/single-member constituencies issue.
Any ruling government could simply adopt a map proposed by the government’s 2010 Electoral Boundary Commission, which chopped Grand Cayman up into 16 single-member voting districts and Cayman Brac and Little Cayman into two.
Under the single-member district plan proposed by the boundary commission in 2010, George Town would be divided into six districts; George Town North, George Town South, George Town West, George Town East, Red Bay and Prospect. The new districts in Bodden Town would be Savannah, Newlands, Pedro and Bodden Town. West Bay would also be divided into north, east, west and south.
Cayman Brac West [which includes Little Cayman] and Cayman Brac East would be the two Sister Islands voting districts. North Side and East End voting districts were left mostly unchanged since they already operate as single-member districts.
Fourteen of the 18 single-member districts created by the boundary commission are all within 90 votes of one another. The largest two proposed single-member voting districts [George Town Central and George Town West] have 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.