On Oct. 19, 2015, the Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly approved the recommendation of the Electoral Boundary Commission and effectively implemented the most fundamental change in the territory’s general election voting system since the adoption of the 1959 Constitution.
The one man, one vote concept had been debated for decades, dating back to at least 1971 when a constitution commission report issued by the U.K.’s Earl of Oxford and Asquith recommended that Cayman adopt single-member voting districts. However, the territorial leaders during subsequent decades could never seem to agree on how this should be carried out.
In October, the Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly decided the concept would be implemented in the form of 19 single-member voting districts or constituencies, adding one more elected seat to the assembly membership. The current multi-member voting system in Cayman consists of six voting districts which allow residents anywhere from six votes to one vote, depending on where they live.
The year started with the appointment of American political scientist Lisa Handley to chair the 2015 Electoral Boundary Commission, which also consisted of local attorneys Adriannie Webb and Steve McField.
Ms. Handley, who did not have extensive experience in the Caribbean, had worked in redistricting efforts across most of the rest of the world, including Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe. She was the first American to lead a Cayman Islands boundary commission.
The boundary commission members hosted public meetings in every voting district in April and were met with everything from skepticism in Bodden Town to outright opposition in West Bay. During the Bodden Town meeting in April, former MLA Gilbert McLean said he expected the current Progressives-led government would back away from the changes before the 2017 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.
The concept of adding a 19th seat to the Legislative Assembly was broached in George Town district, where it was supported.
During a meeting in Bodden Town, boundary commission member Mr. McField said the issue was 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.
When the draft voting maps were introduced in late June, the extra seat had been added to George Town. The public then got another chance to review the drawings and by August, a little-changed voting map had been presented to Governor Helen Kilpatrick.
That left it to the Legislative Assembly to approve the boundary commission recommendations, which it did in mid-October on a 13-3 vote. The dissenting votes came from the three opposition Cayman Islands Democratic Party members. Party leader and West Bay MLA McKeeva Bush has long been an opponent of the move to single-member constituencies.
“I cannot support dividing this country up any more,” Mr. Bush said in May. “That cannot be the kind of participatory democracy we want and the premier knows that.”
Some procedural changes to the Elections Law are still needed in order to implement the system, but it is expected those will be approved by the assembly next year.
“[This is] one of the most significant constitutional and electoral changes this country has made,” Premier Alden McLaughlin said in October.