The Cayman Islands’ new voting maps slice and dice our country into 19 tiny enclaves, with boundaries whimsically wandering through apparent communities of interest, dissecting neighborhood streets so that the homes on the left side are in one district and the homes on the right in another, sometimes lopping off entire cul de sacs, seemingly at random — while lumping together people in disparate areas who live miles and miles from one other.
Exceptions have been made to “preserve” the interests of the country’s smallest districts at the expense of the country’s four largest districts, which are home to nearly 90 percent of registered electors. The end result, arithmetically, is that each ballot cast in North Side, East End and the Sister Islands will “count” about twice as much as each ballot cast in George Town, Bodden Town and West Bay. (The four MLAs from the four smallest districts will each represent 557 people; while the 15 MLAs from the four largest districts will each represent 1,071 people.)
All in all, the new maps do not meet the “eye test” for rationality, nor do they achieve the founding principle of “equal representation” upon which the “one man, one vote” movement was ostensibly based.
People of the Cayman Islands: Welcome to the world of redistricting!
Now, this is not intended to disparage the efforts of the Electoral Boundary Commission or its chairwoman Lisa Handley, an American consultant who is a recognized expert in voting and elections. On the contrary, we believe the commission has taken great pains and made great efforts to consider public input in order to achieve its government-mandated objectives. At first glance, the new maps look superior to the output from the last iteration of the boundary commission in 2010.
Our point is this: Any attempt to divvy up a country as small as Cayman (with a mere 18,000 registered electors) into districts containing a mere 1,000 electors apiece, given the prevailing political constraints of protecting 10 percent of electors at the expense of the other 90 percent, even if it means sacrificing the idea of equal representation, is doomed for failure before it begins.
But again, when one is dealing with redistricting, that’s just how things tend to play out. Redistricting is, at root, a political exercise — in terms of purpose, process and practice. Thus, the absurd is almost inevitable.
As we’ve said before, the underlying principle of “one man, one vote” could not be achieved while preserving East End (629 electors) and North Side (582 electors) in situ. Simply put, there aren’t enough people living out there to merit two seats in the Legislative Assembly. (The same could, and should, be said about the Sister Islands, but they enjoy protection under the Cayman Islands Constitution.)
But instead of the practical solution — the most elegant of which would be to combine East End and North Side into one district that would be in par, population-wise, with the remaining single-member districts on Grand Cayman — the Electoral Boundary Commission opted for a political calculation — that is, creating an extra MLA position for George Town, purportedly to achieve more equal representation, which, of course, it does not do.
In reality, the creation of the 19th seat has a twofold function: Allowing the Progressives government to curry favor for their OMOV plan (and possibly other proposals) with the independent members from East End and North Side, and in the process adding a new legislative district within the Progressives’ stronghold of George Town.
If politics is a blood sport, redistricting is the Colosseum. Let the games begin … we guess.