Commonwealth observers election report complete
The Cayman Islands 2013 general election process got rave reviews from a group of international election observers who visited here the week before the 22 May vote.
However, the six-person observer team also found several areas that could have gone badly wrong if the Elections Office had not handled the balloting in such a professional and thorough manner.
First problem, the voter ballots aren’t really secret, or at least the secrecy of that process could have been compromised, according to the observer team from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.
“While the Elections Law requires voting by secret ballot, the very same law also mandates numbering of ballot papers, thus undermining the secrecy of the ballot,” the Commonwealth observers’ report found.
According to the report, ballot papers and counterfoils both have an identical serial number. The ballot itself is placed in the ballot box while the “counterfoil” is placed in an envelope that is kept by election staff. The idea is to have two separate documents to validate votes in case a ballot is challenged.
However, election observers concluded that this creates a “theoretical opportunity” to determine a specific voter’s choice.
“Although numerous safeguards are put in place to minimise this opportunity, the fact that it exists could be used to intimidate and coerce electors,” the report stated.
Commonwealth observers did not point out any specific examples of such a situation occurring and, in fact, noted several times in their final report that everyone involved in the elections process in Cayman was free to speak their mind, including the candidates.
Voter registration was one area where legal requirements were found to be “overly restrictive”, according to the Commonwealth group.
The requirement that all registered voters be resident in the Cayman Islands for two of the four years prior to the registration date for the election “might have prevented a number of otherwise eligible Caymanians from exercising their right to vote”.
The report pointed out that only 56.3 per cent of the Caymanian resident population was eligible to register as electors for the 2013 general election.
Using figures collated as part of the Cayman Islands 2010 Census, the Commonwealth group estimated that another 5,000 Caymanians might have been registered to vote in time for 22 May, 2013. That’s in addition to a 3,000-plus increase in eligible voters between mid-2012 and May 2013.
“It should be pointed out that the Elections Office expressed doubts about credibility and accuracy of the last population census data and estimated that there are approximately only 2,500 Caymanians of voting age who are not registered as electors,” the Commonwealth observers noted.
The reasons for not registering were chalked up to apathy among the younger generation of voters or an unwillingness to serve jury duty.
The Commonwealth observers reported receiving “numerous” allegations of vote buying during the 2013 campaign, which is illegal in the Cayman Islands.
However, the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service maintained that no official reports were filed alleging instances where vote buying had occurred.
“Police claimed that they made an effort to investigate every unofficial report they have received,” the Commonwealth observers said.
For the first time in the 2013 election, local authorities launched a public awareness campaign about election rules and took an active approach to prevent illegal activities in the run-up to the vote, including distribution of money, goods and other benefits in exchange for votes.
Observers did point out that campaign finance spending limits, $30,000 per candidate affiliated with a political party and $35,000 per unaffiliated candidate, were “unrealistically low”, considering existing prices for services in the Cayman Islands. It recommended that those spending limits be increased.