The new People’s Progressive Movement government has said instituting “one man, one vote” in the Cayman Islands is one of its first priorities.
In July 2012, a referendum on “one man, one vote” and single-member districts failed to meet the benchmark set by the former United Democratic Party government. More people voted “yes” to the measure than voted “no”, but overall turnout wasn’t high enough to make the result compulsory. (The threshold was a majority of registered voters, not a majority of votes.)
After the results of the 22 May election were known, Cayman Islands Premier-elect Alden McLaughlin said his government would install a “one man, one vote” system without waiting for another referendum to be held.
What’ll it be?
It’s not at all certain what kind of electoral system the PPM will institute. “One man, one vote” and single-member districts are two distinct concepts, and each can exist independently from the other.
At the moment, the Cayman Islands does not have “one man, one vote” or single-member districts – except in the districts of North Side and East End. The other districts have multiple representatives, and voters accordingly get that number of votes. (For example, George Town has six representatives, so each registered voter within the district has six votes.)
Some people say the existing system favours East End and North Side because each of those members of the Legislative Assembly represents far fewer people (and needs far fewer votes to win). Others say the system favours the larger districts like George Town, because it has six representatives while East End only has one.
Under a pure “one man, one vote” system, George Town could still have six representatives, but each voter would only get one vote, and the top six finishers would become members of the Legislative Assembly.
Under a pure single-member district system, George Town could be split into six separate districts, but each voter could still have six votes. The top finisher in each district would become a legislator.
Under a combined “one man, one vote” and single-member district system, George Town could be split into six separate districts, each person would get one vote, and the top finisher in each district becomes a lawmaker.
The combined system is the most obvious to implement; however, even assuming that’s the case, it’s still impossible to know what the voting districts will ultimately look like. Assuming again that the new districts follow the 2010 Electoral Boundary Commission’s recommendations, that means 16 single-member districts in Grand Cayman, ranging in size from 571 voters (North Side) to 969 voters (George Town Central), plus a dual-member district comprising of the Sister Islands (980 voters, or 490 voters per legislator).
The commission’s recommendations haven’t been free from criticism, especially regarding the variation in size of the districts. Recently, an international election observer said the standard is for districts to vary in size by 15 per cent at most, whereas the boundary commission’s districts vary by nearly 100 per cent.
However, sweeping aside all those variables, once can conduct a mental exercise to see hypothetically how this year’s candidates may have performed under a “one man, one vote”, single-member district system – by breaking out their vote totals according to results from the 19 district polling stations.
The 22 May winners in West Bay were McKeeva Bush (UDP), Tara Rivers (Coalition for Cayman), Bernie Bush (UDP) and Captain Eugene Ebanks (UDP).
McKeeva Bush, Ms Rivers and Bernie Bush all finished in the top four in each of the four polling stations in the district. Mr. Ebanks finished in the top four in three of the districts, but finished fifth in West Bay South. Mervin Smith (C4C), who placed fifth overall officially, got the third-most votes in West Bay South.
Having single-member districts in West Bay may not have changed the results – although Mr. Smith may have beaten Mr. Ebanks in a head-to-head matchup in West Bay South.
The 22 May winners in Bodden Town were Anthony Eden, Osbourne Bodden, Wayne Panton and Alva Suckoo, all representing the PPM.
Mr. Eden and Mr. Bodden placed in the top four in all three of the district polling stations. The four winners all placed in the top four in the polling stations of Savannah-Newlands and Bodden Town West.
Bodden Town East, however, was a different story. UDP candidate Theresa Pitcairn, who ultimately finished in fifth place in the district of Bodden Town, got the most number of votes in Bodden Town East, followed by Mr. Eden, Mr. Bodden and UDP running mate Chris Saunders. Mr. Suckoo and Mr. Panton placed seventh and eighth, respectively, in Bodden Town East.
Depending on how the district of Bodden Town would be split up into four single-member districts, it is easy to see how the change could have altered the election results.
Ms Pitcairn’s concentrated strength in Bodden Town East would make her a formidable contender if that area was a distinct voting district.
The 22 May winners in George Town were Kurt Tibbetts (PPM), Roy McTaggart (C4C), Mr. McLaughlin (PPM), Marco Archer (PPM), Winston Connolly (C4C) and Joey Hew (PPM).
Mr. Tibbetts, Mr. McLaughlin and Mr. Archer placed in the top sixth in all six of the district polling stations. Mr. Tibbetts won four districts, and Mr. McTaggart won two.
In George Town Central, Kenneth Bryan (PPM), Lucille Seymour (PPM) and Mike Adam (UDP) finished in the top six. In George Town West, Mr. Adam got second place, while Ellio Solomon (UDP) placed fifth and Mr. Bryan placed sixth.
In George Town South, Sharon Roulstone (C4C) placed fourth and Mr. Adam placed sixth. In George Town East, Ms Roulstone placed fifth. In Prospect, Mr. Adam placed sixth.
Because of George Town’s size and socioeconomic diversity, the district stands to be impacted significantly by the implementation of “one man, one vote” and single-member districts.
Carving up George Town would have allowed Mr. Bryan and Ms Seymour to make serious runs in George Town Central, while Mr. Adam and Mr. Solomon would have been strong contenders in George Town West. Ms Roulstone did especially well in George Town South and George Town East.
In East End, North Side and the Sister Islands, it’s easy to imagine the results of a new voting system. All of the incumbents won.