'Not practical' to keep adding MLAs

Although it recommended the addition of a 19th elected representative in the Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly, the 2015 Electoral Boundary Commission cautioned lawmakers against a continued increase in the number of assembly members. 

In a lengthy report outlining the boundaries of the 19 single-member voting districts created under Cayman’s new one man, one vote system, the three-person commission suggested that a limit be placed on the number of elected members. 

“It is not practical to continue to add members to the Legislative Assembly as the number of persons qualified to be registered to vote in the Cayman Islands increases,” the commission’s report stated. “This is a matter that the Legislative Assembly will have to address at some point in the future. 

“For example, they may wish to place a cap on the number of members … as some countries have done.” 

Increasing the number of elected MLAs was a sore point for some supporters of the one man, one vote, single-member constituencies voting system. However, it was largely assented to by North Side MLA Ezzard Miller, who led the charge for the electoral change. 

“[The additional seat] is the price I will pay … for one man, one vote,” Mr. Miller said. 

“I am supportive because it’s long overdue,” said businessman Derrington “Bo” Miller, a founding member of the one man, one vote committee. “But I don’t think we need another representative. Pretty soon we’re going to have more representatives than voters.” 

The number of elected representatives in the Cayman Islands has grown from 12, after the 1959 Constitution Order was approved, to 15 members in 1992, to 18 seats established by the 2009 Constitution Order and now 19, as recommended by the Electoral Boundary Commission. The voters will not elect a 19th representative until the May 2017 general election. 

However, Premier Alden McLaughlin pointed out last week that Cayman once had as many as 35 members serving in the assembly, at a time when the islands had a much smaller population. Some of those members were Justices of the Peace appointed by the then-British governor of Jamaica and some were elected vestrymen.  

The number of political officials was significantly reduced to 18 – 12 elected and six appointed – by the 1959 Constitution. The number was further reduced to 15 – 12 elected and three appointed – by the 1972 Constitution. 

The boundary commission explained its reason for adding a 19th seat, increasing George Town district’s representation from six to seven elected members, was necessary. 

The commission said that if all three of the larger “traditional districts” on Grand Cayman were to retain the current number of MLAs, six in George Town, four in Bodden Town and four in West Bay, the average constituency population would be about the same in West Bay and Bodden Town, but the population in George Town – the most populous district – would be far greater. 

“By assigning George Town a seventh [single-member] constituency, the average population of the George Town constituencies decreases to 1,330, which is very close to the average [eligible voting] populations in both West Bay and Bodden Town,” the report noted. 

Voter registration 

According to April 2015 voter roles examined by the commission, there are nearly 23,000 eligible voters in the Cayman Islands. Of that number, 18,297 were registered as of that date. 

The boundary commission found that the largest disparity between eligible and registered voters existed in two areas, Prospect and Savannah/Newlands. Prospect had about 650 unregistered voters, while the Savannah/Newlands had about 600. 

Cayman’s issues with unregistered voters were a central focus during the boundary commission’s public hearings last spring, where concerns were expressed about unregistered but eligible voters “skewing” the redistricting process. 

According to boundary commission chair Lisa Handley, the new single-member voting districts were drawn based on the determinable number of eligible voters, not just those who were registered. 

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