Calling an election in the Cayman Islands is a fairly straightforward process, according to the territory’s senior elections official.
Holding an election under a new voting system is a much more complicated and time-consuming affair.
The possibility of holding early elections, prior to the regularly scheduled May 2017 date, has been the talk of Cayman this week, following Premier Alden McLaughlin’s recent statements that new elections may be called for and that, if an early vote is held, it would likely be held under the former multimember district voting system.
Legislators late last year approved a change in the territorial voting maps, dividing the six multimember voting districts into 19 separate single-member constituencies.
Elections Supervisor Wesley Howell, in his first election on the job, said Wednesday that the legislative order, agreed by Governor Helen Kilpatrick is the law of the land. However, he indicated time requirements to properly hold such a public vote under the new system would not be met if the elections are held in the coming months.
“The new single-member constituencies and revised boundaries will require significant public awareness and education so that voters are clear on where they will be voting and how to vote in the polls,” Mr. Howell said. “Historically, general elections have taken upwards of 12-15 months to plan and execute.”
Extra time will be needed to train returning officers who manage the elections process and to verify voters addresses and other such routine details.
A by-election held for the replacement of a single Legislative Assembly member, such as the one held following the death of MLA Haig Bodden, are much quicker to prepare for and host, Mr. Howell said.
A territory-wide election under a brand new voting system is another matter, Mr. Howell said.
“I fully expect a new single-member constituency election will take longer to implement than the current multimember constituency election,” he said.
An additional potential snag in the process is that legislators must approve certain technical amendments to Cayman’s Elections Law to bring it into line with 19 single-member districts, giving effect to the 2015 recommendations of the Electoral Boundary Commission.
A Legislative Assembly meeting date has provisionally been set for mid-February, but Premier McLaughlin said this week that he could not confirm a meeting time and that it was possible the current 10-member Progressives coalition could be left without its majority if just one more member departed.
The Legislative Assembly would, in that scenario, be unable to meet and vote on any legislation unless one side or the other could garner a majority of 10 elected members. It is at least theoretically possible that lawmakers and Governor Kilpatrick could come to an agreement on a “minority” government – meaning a government left with fewer than 10 members continues to meet with the agreement of the opposition party that it would attend House meetings.
This is what happened in December 2012, following the “no confidence” vote in former Premier McKeeva Bush’s government. A five-member People’s National Alliance group controlled the government, but it could only meet with the agreement of the then-Progressives party opposition.
That situation lasted for just three months prior to the dissolution of parliament in March 2013 ahead of the general election. Currently, Cayman’s next general election is not due until May 2017, and with parliament’s dissolution required two months before that date, such a “minority” government would have to operate for the next 13 months.
If no one grouping of elected legislators can agree to form a majority coalition or ruling political party, the premier can report to the governor there is a “hung parliament” and, in consultation with her, request new elections.
If the governor agrees, she can then order the dissolution of the Legislative Assembly, meaning the governing body would no longer be able to legally meet and vote.
Once that dissolution is ordered, the Elections Law requires the governor to set dates for the nominations of candidates, the vote date and what date the successful candidates are to be returned.
The election date, according to section 86 of the Cayman Islands Constitution Order (2009), must be within two months of the assembly’s dissolution.