The head of Cayman’s three-member Electoral Boundary Commission has confirmed that the group has not been instructed to add any new Legislative Assembly seats to the territory’s voting map ahead of the May 2017 general election.
Commission chair Dr. Lisa Handley, who is based in Maryland, in the United States, visited Cayman between Feb. 24 and Feb. 26 and plans to return on Sunday to resume the commission’s work.
The commission is set to change Cayman’s current general election map from six voting districts (five in Grand Cayman and one in Cayman Brac and Little Cayman) to 18 single-member constituencies.
“We plan on drawing 18 single-member districts,” Ms. Handley told the Cayman Compass.
The practical effect of that decision is that Grand Cayman’s five voting districts, which consist of three multimember districts and two single-member districts, will become 16 single-member districts, with each returning one member to the assembly. Cayman Brac and Little Cayman are likely to be split into two separate constituencies, each returning one member. Cayman’s constitution requires that the Sister Islands be represented by at least two Legislative Assembly members.
Concerns that the Progressives-led government would attempt to increase membership in the Legislative Assembly to 19, 21 or even 25 MLAs were expressed last year by North Side MLA Ezzard Miller and East End MLA Arden McLean.
During a debate on a government motion concerning the “one man, one vote” issue, Mr. Miller noted that government had not declared how many voting districts the territory could be divided into. Premier Alden McLaughlin has expressed concern that maintaining an even number of legislators could lead to a “hung parliament” – where no one party or group has a majority of candidates elected and therefore cannot form a coalition government due to political differences.
However, Mr. McLaughlin sought to quell fears about any increase in the current number of 18 lawmakers. “There is no such proposal in the [government] motion, the resolution speaks not at all to any increase in membership,” Premier McLaughlin said.
Mr. McLean said government’s intention in moving to single-member voting districts was “obvious.”
“It’s about me and the member from North Side,” he said during the debate. “The premier has said that I have fears about losing my seat if we amalgamate … East End and North Side.”
The issue Mr. McLean raised derives from the fact that, in order to create single-member districts on Grand Cayman with an equal number of voters, the districts would have to be split into about 1,100 voters apiece. Currently, East End and North Side have roughly 600 voters each. Also, the Sister Islands have 1,000 voters in total, so splitting Cayman Brac and Little Cayman into two districts would likely result in about 500 voters per constituency.
Mr. McLean said the Constitution Order, 2009, requires any Electoral Boundary Commission to “have regard for existing boundaries” in its work. “If the premier and his government are looking to make electors equal in this country, is he proposing to change the constitution, and Cayman Brac only get one [vote] too?”
The Compass asked Ms. Handley, following her appointment in January, about her general views in drawing up single-member representative districts.
“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,” she said. “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.”
This issue of “equality of voting,” or that all representative districts should have roughly the same number of voters, was discussed by a group of election observers from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association sent to keep an eye on Cayman’s 2013 general election. Widely varied numbers of voters in each district is against the principles of equal voting rights, Commonwealth election analysts said.