Observers: Cayman needs ‘equality of votes’

Although they gave the Cayman Islands high marks on its election process, international observers who oversaw the general election here last week noted that the territory is not in compliance with generally accepted “equal suffrage” principles. 

That means equal voting rights for all are not being maintained under the existing voting system, mainly for two reasons, observers said.  

Commonwealth Parliamentary Association observers noted in their preliminary report issued Friday that Cayman now has two single-member electoral districts and four multimember districts, which return between two and six members to the Legislative Assembly.  

“This disproportion in the number of elected members per electoral district contradicts the equal suffrage principle of ‘one person, one vote’,” observers noted in their review.  

However, for perhaps the first time in a public forum, the fairness of the proposed “one man, one vote”, single member districts scenario drawn up by the 2010 Electoral Boundary Commission was also challenged by Commonwealth observers.  

According to the preliminary review, voting equality was “further undermined” by the fact that the average number of voters in each district varies widely. Under the existing multimember voting system, electors represented by one legislator vary “between 520 in the case of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman electoral district and 1,240 in case of George Town electoral district”.  

This is also against the principles of equal voting rights, Commonwealth election analysts said.  

“Generally, the difference per district should be no more than 15 or 20 per cent,” said election analyst Marian Gabriel, who travelled with the observer team. “This is the best practice around the world.”  

The plan to divide Grand Cayman into 16 separate single-member electoral districts, as defined in the 2010 Electoral Boundary Commission report, would not come close to meeting that requirement.  

Under the 2010 plan, the largest number of voters in one district, 969 people, was almost 70 per cent greater in terms of registered voters than the smallest district, which at the time had 571 voters. Essentially, under the boundary commission’s plan, East End, North Side and the Sister Islands districts would be allowed to maintain a much smaller number of registered voters than the newly created single-member districts in George Town, West Bay and Bodden Town.  

With the change in district voter populations that occurred between 2012 and 2013, that disparity potentially becomes even larger.  

George Town now has 7,441 registered voters which, if split evenly among six districts would equate to about 1,240 voters per district. The smallest single member district, North Side, now has 599 registered voters – meaning the difference between the George Town and North Side voter population would be more than 100 per cent under the new voter totals.  

The practical effect of this, according to election analyst Alexander Matus, means that each North Side voter’s ballot would carry twice the weight of each George Town voter’s ballot.  

“The principle of equal vote has two aspects; one is ‘one man, one vote’ or one man, equal number of votes; and the second aspect is the equal weight of each vote,” Mr. Matus said. “The number of people or electors represented by one member of the Legislative Assembly should 
be, as far as possible, equal.”  

The political party most likely to control the government between 2013 and 2017, the People’s Progressive Movement, does support the concept of “one man, one vote” as well as single member voting districts, often referred to as single-member constituencies.  

Progressives leader Alden McLaughlin has said it is his intention to implement “one man, one vote” as soon as possible, perhaps within the next 18 months, without the need for another constitutional referendum.  

What “one man, one vote” would look like under a Progressives-led government isn’t yet clear, but Mr. McLaughlin has said in the past that he is inclined to support a single-member district voting scenario. 

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The 2010 Electoral Boundary Commission map created 16 single-member voting districts in Grand Cayman. – Photo: File
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4 COMMENTS

  1. East End and North Side could become one multi-member voting district like the Sister Islands returning two candidates, But still one man one vote. The East enders will vote for their preferred candidate and the Northsiders will vopte for theirs. The two leading candidates are returned.

    Keep all the multi-member districts, but give everyone ONE vote. Have minimum vote thresholds, with provision for run-offs, should the need arise.

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  2. Do we really need separate constuencies on an island so small? Why not every voter have the same number of votes, say 4 or 5, with the 18 candidates that receive the most votes taking the seats.

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  3. Some people worry that combining North Side and East End would create too big an area for one MLA to cope with. Huh. Not true. The other day I wrote in my blog about an Australian friend of mine whose electorate covered an area slightly bigger than the State of Texas, containing 100,000 voters. All the candidates visited every single voter during every single campaign.

    It can be done.

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