Districts on opposite ends of voting debate

Bodden Towners skeptical of government intention

Separate public meetings this week showed that two large voting districts on Grand Cayman are at opposite ends of the “one man, one vote” debate.  

When it comes to changing the Cayman Islands general election system, Bodden Town residents remained doubtful about the government’s true intentions.  

A number of speakers at Wednesday’s public meeting with the Electoral Boundary Commission at Bodden Town Primary School expressed concern that “something” would happen to prevent government from implementing single-member voting districts in time for the May 2017 elections.  

“[There is] skepticism about the concept of one man, one vote and single-member constituencies coming into effect in the 2017 elections,” said local talk radio show host Orrett Connor, the retired government Cabinet Secretary who has previously said he is considering a run for office himself in two years. “Any government that fails to [implement single-member voting districts] runs a high risk of defeat at the polls in 2017.”  

Electoral Boundary Commission Chair Lisa Handley, an American political scientist, told a crowd of about 40 Cayman Islands residents that from a technical standpoint, redrawing the current multi-member voting district map into single-member districts is “not a particularly difficult exercise.”  

Ms. Handley said Monday that she had set a June deadline for the redistricting map or maps to be completed. Commission member Steve McField, a local attorney, said Wednesday that the task should be completed “before August.”  

“As to how long the Legislative Assembly might sit on this, that adds complications to it,” Ms. Handley said. “But in terms of the technical process, it’s not difficult.”  

The political wrangling over the idea of splitting Cayman into single-member constituencies has gone on for nearly 50 years. During Wednesday’s meeting, former government minister Gilbert McLean read sections of a 1971 report by Cayman Islands Constitutional Commissioner Julian Edward George Asquith, the second Earl of Oxford and Asquith, which recommended forming single-member districts ahead of the adoption of Cayman’s 1972 Constitution Order.  

Forty-four years and two new constitutions later, the British Overseas Territory is still debating the same voting change, Mr. McLean said.  

Mr. McLean said he had a “premonition” that the current Progressives-led government would back away from the changes prior to the next election.  

“We’re going to hear that it needs more time, it needs more input … the redrawing is going to take more time and we need to educate the populace,” Mr. McLean said.  

Three members of the government were present at Wednesday night’s meeting, including Financial Services Minister Wayne Panton, who assured those present that the Progressives had a “clear mandate” to implement single-member constituencies.  

“We cannot exclude the possibility that something may put that aside, but I can tell you the government and my party is committed to that,” Mr. Panton said. “This process is under way … we are moving forward.”  

Additional LA seat  

The concept of adding a 19th, or even a 20th and 21st representative seat to the Legislative Assembly, was discussed at some length during Wednesday’s public hearing. Bodden Town residents who attended, with a few exceptions, did not seem opposed to the idea. 

However, attendees did note that they were not sure a new legislative position – if one was formed – should go in George Town.  

“I’m not prepared to give George Town anything,” said former Speaker of the House and Bodden Town resident Mary Lawrence. “The population is moving out to this area. People are moving out of George Town and West Bay. So, if anyone is going to get another member, it should be us.”  

Boundary commission member Mr. McField said the issue is a thorny one for the three-person commission. Although the vast majority of Caymanian voters still live in the George Town area, the rapid growth on the islands seems to be mainly in three areas: Prospect, Newlands and Savannah. Two of those areas are in Bodden Town district.  

“The Prospect area alone [has] over 3,000 people registered to vote in that area,” Mr. McField said. “If that trend continues, we would not be able to fix the [voter] numbers properly in that area and the only solution would be to carve out another single-member constituency.”  

Mr. McField was referring to the goal of the boundary commission to have single-member districts maintain the same population, as closely as possible. The exception to that rule will be in Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, which have a combined voting population of about 1,000, and which must be split into two districts because of constitutional requirements.  

West Bayers split 

West Bay residents remain deeply divided over the proposed change in Cayman’s voting system, based on discussions at Tuesday’s Electoral Boundary Commission meeting. 

The meeting, which drew the largest crowd of all the public hearings so far – about 75 attended – was peppered with debate over whether Cayman should switch to a one man, one vote system with the formation of single-member voting districts, rather than how those single-member districts might be drawn. Electoral Boundary Commission member Adriannie Webb told the audience at the Sir John A. Cumber Primary School Hall that the political decision on one man, one vote had already been made.  

“It’s really only about the boundaries and distribution of the population,” Ms. Webb said. “When it comes to single-member constituencies … that has already been decided upon by the government, by the members of the Legislative Assembly. We have no say in that; we are here to discuss the boundaries.  

“The electoral system has already been decided upon. We’re not having that discussion now.”  

“Well, what are you having the meeting for?” asked West Bay resident Denny Ebanks.  

Mr. Ebanks opined that rather than drawing an actual single-member voting district system, it appeared the government was trying to create “carve-outs” for the much smaller districts of East End, North Side and Cayman Brac-Little Cayman instead of trying to draw each district with a roughly equal number of voters.  

As they have explained in previous meetings, boundary commission members noted that the Cayman Islands Constitution Order, 2009, sets certain guidelines on the formation of new single-member constituencies. Cayman Brac and Little Cayman are constitutionally guaranteed two representatives in the Legislative Assembly. The constitution also advises that commission members “shall have regard” to already existing voting districts.  

Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush, long an opponent of single-member voting districts, said he understood the remit of the boundary commission, but nonetheless urged the government to rethink its current proposal.  

“I remain opposed to this system because it cannot do this country any good other than to divide us more than we are divided already … with my back door against yours and a line between us,” Mr. Bush said. “There won’t be any more community.”  

Several other West Bay residents spoke up in favor of the voting change, which aims to be in place in time for the May 2017 general election. Dalkeith Bothwell urged voters not to be afraid of change. “I wholly endorse it and I don’t think we should be fearful of it,” Mr. Bothwell said. “Anybody in this day and age running for a district … has to represent the people on a whole.”  

Mr. Ebanks argued with commission members that the government was ignoring the results of a 2012 referendum on one man, one vote, which failed on the
basis that 50 percent-plus-one registered voters in the Cayman Islands did not turn out to support it. Of the voters who did participate in the referendum, far more supported single-member districts and one man, one vote, but the numbers did not meet the constitutionally required threshold.  

“We are going to supersede the referendum by this?” Mr. Ebanks said. “[The referendum] did not succeed. Referendum is direct democracy.”  

Mr. McField said Mr. Ebanks should take up his issues with the Cayman Islands elected leaders.  

“Don’t row with me!” Mr. McField said. “It’s not my game. My game is only to make a report and make recommendations.”  


  1. MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS: What I would really like to know is, if by implementing one man one vote what will the becoming single member constituencies gain by it? Because as I understand quite clearly, each individual person although will have the opportunity of voting for one person in their prescribed constituency; Fair enough; but overall what are we going to achieve by going single member now; or by waiting until after the 2017 election for a clearer understanding to all?. As I understand and clearly see it, even if we vote for a single member, and that person is dodging their responsibilities, there is absolutely nothing that can be done except wait for a next four years election with a threat over their heads daily that they will be voted out. That is being done now with multiple members, So what is the difference; that I want to know?.
    If now that we have multiple members with some four to five members in the districts hiding behind each other, and we have problems seeing or finding them, to get things done, don’t you think it will be even Harder to find one man?
    In the LA, members are paid very well, some are even paid more than the President of big countries and the fact is that they do not even spend six consecutive months in the LA. You will go to the office and no one is there but a secretary. That is not enough. If you are not in the LA then you should be in the office to be reached.
    Unless there is a guarantee that One Man one Vote will assure constituencies that representatives will be in office to answer when not in LA and that they can be reached and not hiding from their constituencies, then I and I may think about one man vote, also take for instance if we get four or five constituencies in Bodden Town; I would like to know if there will be four constituency office set up? Have we the people thought about that? There are more questions than answers, and thank you for someone to please modestly give us some answers on these questions.

  2. Folks, its not that difficult, you need to look at the real meaning of Politic talk:
    Its going to take more time, its going to take more input, that equals, hang on a minute, we got elected this time, why change it?
    Then when you dont get elected, you shout for change, it works for both sides.
    So, what is it that makes OMOV the right answer. Well, start with the basics, why should one man or woman, have more power to elect than another person, just because he lives in, say, West Bay, not North side? Why should the main man in West bay have a right to get his voters a chance to elect him and three friends, which the North Sider cannot?
    Simple, there is no just reason, so why does OMOV get made so difficult, and be fair, it isnt just the West bay man that is stalling, all the others are too. Why? Because they fear that change will alter their cosy circumstances, and you know, it will and it should. You deserve a lot better than what you have, down the years they have squandered what should be the common wealth of perhaps the richest place in the Carribean.
    So, change is what you need to correct the situation.
    What could be simpler than to divide up the Islands into equal population groups, (yes, with regard to traditional boundaries), give each person equal right to choose his representative, and yes, to fire him next time if he doesnt perform. Thats OMOV, and wit apologies, because one man/woman one vote takes too long to type!
    Dont let them blind you with double talk, dont let them delay "for more input", just make them get out of their comfort zone and CHANGE!

  3. Twyla, I think your concern is principally that with only one member in your (smaller) constituency, it will be harder to find and question or lobby that man. I dont think that is a reasonable concern, first the four men/women will be spread more widely because the large 4 man area will be quartered in population. Second, he will depend on you his electors to want him back. You see this in Britains current election, party differences are often overshadowed by a local populations respect ( or the opposite) for the way their man looked after them, they need to stay on side.
    But the real reason that the current system is non democratic is what I described earlier, which is that a district like West Bay has an influence on Government way beyond that of a single member area, and way beyond the 4 times differential because a single influential member can carry with him 3 lesser individuals, that isnt a fair situation, isnt democratic, and is why it is so beloved of those that benefit from it.

  4. Arthur maybe you are not aware of it, but the truth is that the same thing you referred to about a single member can carry with him 3 lesser individuals and isn’t a fair situation has been happening in George Town and Bodden Town since the past five elections. Make Kurt Tibbetts and Anthony Eden drops out of the race next election and then you tell me what happens.
    I am a graduate on observance of what takes place with politicians, meaning I know exactly who carries in who on their backs whether it is West Bay, George Town or Bodden Town.
    My concern is very reasonable to me because frankly speaking my questions are well worth answering. If there is going to be four constituencies will we have an office in each constituency, or all four will run one office. The question deserve an answer that is truthful. If we cannot find four men now, you please tell me how it will be easier to find one. Further more why should I have to wait four years to say at the end of the four year I will not vote for you again. No, my questions still have not been answered.

  5. Yes Twyla, I picked West Bay as an example because it is where the problem is most obvious, and the same is true of other areas. That does not make it the right way to handle democracy.
    If you split West bay into, say WB 1, WB2/3/4, then those same 4 men can stand either against each other in WB1, or separately. If they are the best candidates in each separate area then each will be elected as before, but each on his own merits (against other opponents) and each WB area correctly gets its own member. If they are all at one with Mr Big in WB1, thats fine because they each were elected on a manifesto to that particular area, whereas in multi member areas, Mr Big can get them all elected as his sidekicks, thus giving each WB voter more clout in the LA than a single member area.
    Your issue about suitably qualified people to stand remains the same whichever system you use, remember, it isnt necessary for the candidate to live within the area. And the issue of "finding them" to take issue with them also remains the same, in fact what you seem to be saying here, is that by contacting a small fry you get the message to the Big Mac, and if that doesnt illustrate the problem I dont know what does!
    Hope that helps!

  6. No it does not Arthur. Obviously we are grazing on opposite sides of the fence, however I can appreciate that; because its exactly what true democracy is about.
    Referring to Mr Big, are you aware that all or most districts carry one of them, A Mr Big; and we can call them by what ever name we want to but they are there.
    Anyway what I was really expecting to hear from you, or anyone else, and which I still have not, is answer to questions: Will each Constituency member have their own office in their constituency where they will be voted in, or will all of them still use one office? It is a simple yes or no, but no one is answering this question, and it has to be a reason. Five or six constituencies offices will definitely cost more money to run each one, unless they will run these offices from home; and if there will only be one office for all five, then what really is the purpose of One Man One Vote?.
    I have no mention or issue about suitable qualified people, because as far as I am concerned every one who entered the doors of the LA became qualified after taking the oath, or should I say they all had On the job training; and no it is not my desire to try contacting a small fry to catch a big fish. I prefer getting the message straight from the top because in so doing there is no misunderstanding from the middle man. So my questions are still hanging in the wind.

  7. Twyla, only the successful candidates in each area can answer your question, but here is how it works in say, the UK. Each candidate is there to represent his area, he doesnt have to speak to the voters ever again, but he does because he will soon be out of a seat if he doesnt. Typically he will hold weekly "surgeries" when anyone withaa query or complaint can go and see him, it would be say at the local town hall, or even at his home. He may chose to get secretarial help and charge it (yes there has been some cheating there!) but it is not essentially an expensive item, in Cayman with small areas and numbers it can be simple.
    BUT, that is a detail, what is essentially wrong is for a man in one area to have more power to elect than another, that is what happens in multi member areas,it is so clear I cannot understand why there is any question as to which way is right, and yes, there are loads of Mr Bigs, that makes it wrong multiple times. The only reason I pick on WB is because he is as bad an example as I can think of, but there we differ!

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