Plenty of time to decide on how we vote

Sometimes the courageous decision for a leader to make is to rein in his troops before they plunge into the cannon smoke.

Such is the case with Premier Alden McLaughlin’s recent remarks in the Legislative Assembly on the topic of single-member voting districts.

In brief, Mr. McLaughlin said his government has “concerns” about splitting the Cayman Islands up into 18 or 19 districts that would be so small that the outcomes of elections could be easily influenced.

The premier said the government would take more time to consider the issue, and wasn’t yet set on a particular system — despite the Progressives party platform calling for the implementation of single-member districts before the 2017 election.

Some may accuse Mr. McLaughlin of breaking his promise. If that’s the case, good for him.

The editorial board has explained our stance on campaign promises: Make fewer of them, and don’t be afraid to break one if you’ve got good reason.

The next election is more than three years away. That’s enough time to spend a full year researching voting systems of all types — for large nations, small countries, territories, municipalities and districts; then spend another year determining what the best system is for Cayman; and then spend another year implementing it.

If it doesn’t get done before 2017, that’s fine. In this instance, sticking with the status quo isn’t doing immediate harm to the country or costing taxpayers money.

While the current electoral system is far from perfect, it has worked reasonably well in the past, including a year ago, and this is one area where unintended consequences could dictate the future course of the country.

Take, for example, the venerable tradition of gerrymandering districts — i.e. drawing boundaries in such a way that it practically ensures the victory or defeat of a particular member. Currently unknown in Cayman, that purely political issue dominates the agendas of state legislatures across the U.S., particularly right after the decennial national census, and the new maps are followed by legal challenges that clog up the courts for years afterward.

Making radical revisions to voting, the foundation of democracy, is a complicated and delicate task that requires much expertise and sensitivity to local communities of interest.

“One man, one vote” and “single-member constituencies” are two distinct concepts that unfortunately were conflated before the July 2012 referendum.

The former means that each person can vote for only one candidate in the district. The latter means only one representative is elected from each district. They are neither dependent on one another nor mutually exclusive.

In reality, the OMOV proposal in 2012 could not be sufficiently explained through campaign sloganeering, and the ballot item up for voters’ consideration was far too complex for the poll results to mean much of anything at all — except that there isn’t much of a consensus on the topic.

For now, the editorial board is remaining neutral on what particular voting system, including the current one, is best for Cayman. The possibilities have not been adequately explored yet.

In addition to single ballots and single-member districts, the government should widen the scope of its inquiry to include voter registration, expatriate representation, ballot-casting options, ballot-counting methods, and whether or not to stagger, limit, shorten or lengthen the terms served by elected members, among other topics.

When contemplating changing the way the country votes, the government should proceed with patience and extreme caution — following the example of Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” rather than Alfred Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade.”

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