Boundary commission hears from George Town residents
Controversial proposals to add one – or perhaps even three – Legislative Assembly seats have not been entirely ruled out by members of Cayman’s three-person Electoral Boundary Commission, according to commission members who addressed Monday night’s public meeting in George Town.
“The commissioners could recommend that George Town has an additional constituency with another seat in the Legislative Assembly,” commission member Steve McField said.
Boundary commission chairperson, American political scientist Lisa Handley, initially said the commission intended to draw 18 separate single-member voting districts, to replace Cayman’s current six-district, multi-member voting system. However, she conceded during Monday night’s meeting at Mary Miller Hall that additional Legislative Assembly membership is “one of the things we are taking into account” and that the commission might even draw up alternate district maps, based on input it receives from residents this week.
That answer was given after George Town resident and former member of the Legislative Assembly Lucille Seymour asked whether the work done by the commission “would have covered” the potential extension of the Legislative Assembly to 19 or even 21 seats.
“I sincerely believe that should be taken into consideration,” Ms. Seymour said.
Mr. McField, a local attorney serving on his first boundary commission, declined to give his personal views on the subject but indicated one might make a case for at least one additional legislative seat in George Town.
His comments were based on the fact that the Cayman Islands has 18,297 registered voters, which, if divided evenly, would come to about 1,016 average “voters” per district.
Cayman Brac and Little Cayman – which are guaranteed two Legislative Assembly representatives by the 2009 Constitution Order – would not come close to that number if single-member constituencies were to be adopted. Also, East End and North Side districts, if left alone by the boundary commission, would not have anywhere near 1,000 voters apiece.
Meanwhile, George Town, if divided into six single-member districts, would average more than 1,200 voters per district.
“George Town has 7,382 [voters],” Mr. McField said. “If you divide that by six, we are going to have a number left over [from 1,000 per district] or we are going to have to configure boundaries to make that work.”
Ms. Seymour said she realized some would make the argument that “George Town would have too many seats” if the commission adopted that course. However, she noted the advent of single-member voting districts would likely mean that the old district lines of George Town, Bodden Town and West Bay would be washed away. “There won’t be any more George Town, there won’t be any more West Bay, per se,” Ms. Seymour said. “By going into single-member constituencies, you have given the authority to those constituencies.”
Ms. Handley agreed that traditional boundary lines would change over time, based on changes in population. For instance, the smaller district of North Side has seen spectacular growth in the past two years, becoming Cayman’s fourth largest voting district by the latest population estimates. Whether that population growth is due to voters or non-voters is uncertain, but Ms. Handley said electoral boundaries under single-member districts almost never stay constant.
“Every time the boundary commission meets and looks at the population figures, the boundaries would change,” she said.
Audience members at Mary Miller Hall asked whether this meant lawmakers – who are elected every four years in the Cayman Islands – would be spending the rest of their time redrawing boundaries to favor their interests or a particular political party’s chances during the next general election.
Commission member Adriannie Webb said the constitution prescribes that a boundary commission should be called once every eight years to review district lines. However, there is nothing that would prevent a government from calling one earlier if its members desired and the territorial governor agreed.
This prospect did not sit well with Deal Ebanks, a West Bay resident who attended Monday’s meeting. “We’re going to spend our money every few years redrawing these boundaries,” he said.
Ms. Webb replied that there is no reason to believe the boundaries would be redrawn every four years, and that no voting system Cayman selected would be perfect. “We will never have a perfect system,” she said.
“Why would we spend a lot of money and time going from one imperfect thing to another imperfect thing?” Rudolph Brandt asked at Monday night’s meeting.