US academic to chair boundaries commission

An American voting rights expert and political science professor with more than 25 years experience in U.S. political redistricting cases, as well as redistricting and election training in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe, has been selected to lead Cayman’s 2015 Electoral Boundary Commission.

Lisa R. Handley will lead the three-person commission that will draw up the voting map under which the Cayman Islands will choose its next parliament in May 2017.

Cayman is expected to move to a system of single-member districts in time for the election. The territory currently operates under a hybrid system with four multimember voting districts of different sizes and two single-member districts.

Dr. Handley is the first American to be chosen to head a Cayman Islands Electoral Boundary Commission. The chairman of the 2003 and 2010 boundary commissions was Carl W. Dundas, a Jamaican-born barrister who practices in London.

Returning to the Electoral Boundary Commission for the third time is Cayman Islands attorney Adriannie Webb, who was nominated by Premier Alden McLaughlin. Appointed for the first time is attorney Steve McField, who was nominated by Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush.

Dr. Handley was chosen as commission chair by Governor Helen Kilpatrick and her appointment was “made in consultation with the premier and leader of the opposition,” according to a government statement issued Thursday.

Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush, who met privately with Governor Kilpatrick on Monday, said he had not been informed of the governor’s appointment to lead the boundary commission.

“I’d rather see someone from the [Caribbean] region, who is more familiar with small islands,” Mr. Bush said of the commission appointment.

Premier McLaughlin was contacted about the governor’s appointment, but did not respond to calls and messages seeking comment Thursday.

The Cayman Compass contacted Dr. Handley at her office in Potomac, Maryland for comment about the appointment Thursday.

“I have not consulted in the Caymans prior to this assignment,” Dr. Handley said via email. “I assume I have been asked to chair the commission because of my international expertise in redistricting. Of course, my fellow Commissioners are very knowledgeable about the Cayman Islands. My interest in the project stems from my interest in redistricting in general, and in particular my desire to learn about the redistricting experiences of other countries.”

Asked about her general views in drawing up single-member representative districts, Dr. Handley replied: “Electoral districts that vary greatly in population violate the central tenet of democracy that all voters be able to cast a vote of equal weight. However, boundary commissions should be given some degree of flexibility to balance the concern for equal population with other redistricting criteria such as respect for communities of interest.”

Her resume includes redistricting work for the United Nations in Kenya, Haiti, Bangladesh, Sierra Leone, Liberia and the Congo. In addition, she has been selected as a voting system and redistricting expert for the International Foundation for Election Systems in Afghanistan, Sudan, Kosovo, Nigeria, Yemen, and Lebanon.

Dr. Handley also helped develop a training curriculum on electoral boundaries in Azerbaijan and Jamaica. Other international clients have included the Australian Election Commission and the boundary commission in British Columbia, Canada.

She has appeared as a consultant and expert witness in more than 60 U.S. court cases involving redistricting disputes since the mid-1980’s, representing several U.S. states and giving general advice on minority voter representation.

In preparing the Electoral Boundary Commission report, the three members must “take account of the Cayman Islands natural boundaries and existing electoral districts,” but must also ensure that each new single-member constituency contains an equal number of people who are qualified to be registered voters “so far as is reasonably practicable.”

The commission is expected to submit recommendations to the governor within four months.

Premier McLaughlin announced last September that his administration would seek to implement one man, one vote in the form of single-member constituencies by mid-2015.

Mr. McLaughlin also said at the time that all voting districts under the new system would send one representative each to the Legislative Assembly. There would be no “at large” constituencies and no special carve-outs for Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, which would be split into two voting districts, he said.

There are still a number of questions concerning what the district voting map in 2017 will look like. According to Mr. McLaughlin, one issue to be considered is whether Cayman will keep its current number of 18 representatives in the assembly, or seek to create an odd number of representatives to avoid a “hung parliament” following a future election.

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  1. Hopefully this redistricting will be an opportunity to break up historical power bases and some of the ingrained district mentalities that no longer serve the best interests of the country.

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