Although the two issues in Cayman have been inextricably linked, the one man, one vote concept is distinctly different from that of single-member voting districts.
Single-member districts mean only that one representative from each district is sent to the Legislative Assembly. In Cayman, this was proposed to be done by giving electors a single vote in each district.
One man, one vote means, very simply, that each voter gets only one vote. In theory, the concept of one man, one vote could be applied to multi-member constituencies and that is done in a number of countries throughout the world.
In Ireland, for instance, a proportional representation voting system has been used since the country gained independence from England in 1922. The system is governed by the use of a ‘single transferable vote’ in choosing members of parliament.
How it works: Voters who go into the polls in Ireland choose their first, second and third choice for candidates. In most cases, the first choice is the member who gets the vote. However, if that member has already received enough votes to be elected – or if it appears that candidate will not be competitive in the balloting – the vote can be transferred to the elector’s second or third choice.
The idea is to ensure as few votes as possible are wasted and that political parties receive proportional representation within the legislature.
In Wales, each voter gets two votes; one for a constituency member and one for a member from a region list; often referred to as a ‘party list’.
For the first vote, Wales is divided into single member constituencies; the same as those for the UK general elections with a ‘first-past-the-post’ system and the candidate with the most votes winning.
The second vote requires a ‘regional vote’ from electors, which is based along political party lines. This vote is based on a list of party candidates, placed in order by the political parties of their first choice candidate, then second choice, then third choice and so on. Each of Wales’ five regions returns four members based on party selections.
The United Kingdom uses single member constituencies in its elections, although the country also had a number of multi-member voting constituencies until 1948.
Closer to home
In Caribbean countries and British Overseas Territories, single member voting districts are the most common democratic systems and tend to be dominated by two political parties within those countries.
In Jamaica, the House of Representatives members are chosen from single-member districts by voters. Jamaica also has 21 senators; 13 of which are chosen by the prime minister and eight by the opposition government.
In the December 2011 vote, the People’s National Party received about 53 per cent of the vote and about 47 per cent of the vote went to the Jamaica Labour Party. Four other political parties that contested the election only received about 1,000 votes between them out of more than 800,000.
Trinidad and Tobago’s House of Representatives is elected for a maximum of five-year terms in single-seat constituencies. There is also a senate with the majority of members appointed on the advice of the prime minister.
Bermuda, a British Overseas Territory in the Atlantic, has a 36-member house of assembly also elected for five-year terms in single member districts. The Bermudian Senate has 11 appointed members. Bermuda also has a two-party system that dominates elections, although in the more recent years one of the main parties – the United Bermuda Party – morphed into the One Bermuda Alliance with some other political factions and now holds control of the government.
The British Virgin Islands, also a British territory, elects 13 of its 15 house of assembly members [formerly the legislative council prior to the 2007 election]. Nine of the members come from single-seat constituencies and four are elected as ‘at large’ members that represent the Islands as a whole. The attorney general and a house speaker are chosen from outside the elected representatives. The BVI system is also dominated by two political parties.
The Turks and Caicos Islands, also British, have not held elections since 2009 when the UK imposed direct rule because of criminal corruption issues within the territory. However, Turks also operates 15 single member constituencies with the Progressive National Party and the People’s Democratic Movement generally vying for power. No other party even ran candidates during the territory’s 2007 elections.
Single member research
The balance of academic research regarding single-member voting districts seems to indicate that method of election tends to support a two-party system.
That has been the case in most of the Caribbean and in the United States in recent decades.
According to research done by Australia’s Electoral Commission: “A…consequence of the first-past-the post [used in conjunction with single-member districts] is the tendency of the system to limit the range of candidates available through fear of splitting the vote. Two separate political parties with similar, but not the same policies, might decide to divide the constituencies between them rather than contesting all constituencies and splitting the vote.”
In contrast, the study argues the limitation of “minor” political parties could be seen as a positive in the formation of stable governments and in the selection of higher-quality candidates.
‘Because elections are contested at the constituency level, there is a greater possibility of outstanding candidates being elected regardless of party support,” the Australia commission opined.
The argument that single-member districts have tended to support large, established political parties is one that One Man, One Vote Committee Chairperson Sharon Roulstone has heard a number of times and she says she doesn’t necessarily disagree. However, Roulstone said her support for one man, one vote doesn’t stem from a desire to “get rid of the parties” or to vote out the premier.
“That’s not our objective,” she said. “I think it will benefit [political] parties to a great degree; they’ll just get an army of people and plot them in each single-member constituency.”
Cayman does not require elected representatives to live in the district in which they are elected and if single-member constituencies are approved, there will still be no residency requirements.