North Siders criticize emphasis on combining districts
The Electoral Boundary Commission wrapped up two weeks of public meetings on Thursday night, when they met with 45 residents of North Side at the Craddock Ebanks Civic Centre.
Having visited every district, including separate trips to Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, the commissioners are still inviting comments and opinions. Steve McField told North Siders what fellow commissioner Adriannie Webb had announced in East End – that they will have personal meetings with people who want to make appointments and express their views privately.
Chairman Lisa Handley later confirmed that the commission will hold “open house” meetings on May 19, 20 and 21 from 2-4 p.m. at the Elections Office, which is serving as their base.
Ms. Handley began discussion in North Side by asking for ideas and comments as Cayman moves from a multi-district system to a single member district system in which each voter will have one vote and each district will return one representative. She pointed out that the commission’s mandate is to prepare a report with suggested boundaries; it will be up to the Legislative Assembly to accept the report, amend it, “or vote it down altogether.”
Mr. McField addressed the apprehension some people had expressed about the independence of the commission. He quoted directly from the 2009 Constitution, which says that the Electoral Boundary Commission “shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority.”
He also reminded the gathering that the Constitution dictates how the Governor appoints the commission; the chairman (Ms. Handley) was chosen by the Governor acting in her own discretion; one member was appointed on the advice of the Premier (Ms. Webb); and one member appointed on the advice of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. McField).
The chairman then asked what people in the audience thought should happen to North Side and the system as a whole.
Bill McLaughlin and Maxine Bodden Robertson said North Side should be left as it is. Mr. McLaughlin said the premier and the Speaker of the House should be elected by all the voters.
Ms. Robertson said the beauty of the Cayman Islands was that each district was very distinct. Later in the discussion, she suggested that all the commissioners had to do was fix the districts that have three, four or six votes. “We already have one man, one vote,” she pointed out.
Mr. McField commented, “We haven’t seen any convincing case yet to combine East End and North Side.” (There have been some suggestions that the two districts could be combined to form one constituency because their numbers of registered voters, 632 and 586 respectively, would approximately total the numbers in other districts or polling divisions.)
North Side MLA Ezzard Miller asked that the words “district” and “constituency” not be confused. Cayman has six geographical districts with different cultures and traditions, settled by different people, he pointed out. In contrast, a constituency is an area with a determined number of voters for election purposes. The government motion that had led to the appointment of the Electoral Boundary Commission had used the term “single-member electoral districts,” he pointed out, but he preferred “single-member constituencies.”
Resident Chad Powell said he had the impression that the commissioners were biased because they weren’t mentioning any combinations except North Side and East End. He asked why East End could not be combined with Breakers [which is presently part of Bodden Town district).
Jerris Miller asked why commissioners were not proposing to extend East End to Midland Acres [further west in Bodden Town]. He said he had written to suggest that North Side be extended to the North Sound, which would take it into George Town and include some of the voter numbers there.
Ms. Webb noted that, during the meeting in Bodden Town, “we were told we could move part of Bodden town further into George Town.” One suggestion was to move it down to Hurley’s roundabout, she said, referring to the supermarket in Grand Harbour at the eastern end of South Sound Road.
Pat Ebanks pointed out that voter numbers would be higher because there were people who should be registered to vote; but they would not register “and we can’t make them.”
Teddie Ebanks asked if the commissioners had demographics to show what percentage of voters were under the age of 45. Told no, he suggested that they take into consideration whether younger people are disengaged or disillusioned with the process.
Ms. Webb said the electoral system was not part of the boundary commission’s mandate. She noted that a majority of the people at the Bodden Town meeting appeared to be under 45 and there were “quite a lot” in George Town as well. Everyone had been invited to come to meetings and have a say, she pointed out.
Derrington “Bo” Miller asked for a show of hands by people who wanted to “remain as we are.” Observing the response, he concluded “That’s all of us.”
He asked what would protect the people from the powers-that-be who might go against the wishes of the people.
Mr. McField explained that the commissioners will do their report, making recommendations, and then give it to the governor. The governor will give it to the premier, who will put it on an order paper at the Legislative Assembly. If the vote there is affirmative, it will be put into law; if the vote is negative, that will be end of it. “It’s a political decision,” he said.
“We haven’t seen any convincing case yet to combine East End and North Side.” STEVE McFIELD, commissioner