Registration of political parties – whether a group contesting a Cayman Islands general election calls itself a political party or not – would be required under amendments to the local Elections Law due to come before the Legislative Assembly for approval in less than a month.
Long-awaited legal changes to set the stage for Cayman’s switch to single-member district voting in the May 2017 election are also contained in the 67-page amendment bill. The bill states that all voters are only allowed to support one candidate in the district in which they reside. Voters who maintain multiple residences on Grand Cayman or in the Sister Islands must identify one location as their place of “ordinary residence” for the purposes of voting.
The move to single-member districts, or constituencies, has already been approved by the governor’s office and the Legislative Assembly via an electoral boundaries redrafting process completed in 2015. The proposed revisions to the Elections Law are largely a formalization of that effort.
However, the language in the amendment bill requiring political party registration is likely to be much more controversial.
According to the rewritten section 22 of the Elections Bill: “Any group of persons whose activities indicate they come together to contest an election, shall register as a political party.”
In circumstances where such a group carries out activities that “indicate that they have come together to contest an election” the supervisor of elections may conduct an investigation to determine whether the group’s activities indicate that it is, in fact, a political party. If the supervisor determines this is the case, the supervisor will then designate the group as a political party – with or without its consent, the bill states.
“Where a group of nominated candidates designated as a political party are aggrieved by the designation, that group of nominated candidates may, within seven days of the notification of the designation, appeal to the Grand Court against the decision of the supervisor [of elections],” the bill states. In such a case, the Grand Court would be required to hear the appeal within 14 days. No appeal can be made of the Grand Court’s decision, according to the bill.
The designation of a political party can be done, according to the bill, following the nomination of candidates, which occurs about six weeks before an election date.
The determination regarding what is and is not a political party is important, mainly for financial reasons during the course of an election. Independent candidates are allowed to spend more money on their campaigns individually during the six weeks between nomination day and election day [$42,000 maximum under the amendment bill] while political party candidates can spend less individually [$36,000 as proposed under the new bill.]
The legislation also seeks to identify situations where one political group is formed for the express purpose of being a funding mechanism to support individual political candidates, without having to register as a political party itself.
The bill does allow the elections supervisor, in certain circumstances, to revoke a political party’s registration. The circumstances include: “Interactions of the political party with other entities that are not recognized political parties that may indicate that it is under the control, direct or indirect, of another entity or that the political party is using its status as a registered political party primarily for the purpose of providing financial assistance to another entity.”
The proposed legislation requires the elections office to publish a political party register within 14 days of nomination day ahead of any election.
‘One man, one vote’
The Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2016 sets out the boundaries already agreed for the 19 single-member voting districts and specifies that only one candidate may be elected from each area.
While district voters must live in the district they cast their ballot, candidates do not have such a requirement and neither do the registering officers selected for the district. Registering officers, who supervise the voting process in the districts, may also be appointed for more than one district.
In addition, the bill would allow polling stations to be located outside of the constituency itself, if no suitable facilities are available within that district, as determined by the elections supervisor.
For the first time, electronic voter registration will be allowed, if the Elections Law amendments are approved, although the process for that is still being set up. The final registration date for the May election is Dec. 31, 2016.
Although the Cayman Islands Constitution Order (2009) already states who can and cannot be a candidate in a general election, the amendment bill seeks to set out a process whereby eligible candidates are determined if questions arise.
The process, as proposed in the bill, allows the elections supervisor to apply to the Grand Court for a determination as to the qualification or disqualification of the particular candidate.
Candidate qualifications are determined in section 61 of the constitution, while disqualifying factors are set out in section 62.
The bill allows the Grand Court to make the final, unchallenged decision on a candidate’s eligibility.
Ballots and voting
The actual election ballot voters see in 2017 will vary a bit from past general election years.
According to the bill, the ballot paper will contain the full name of the candidate, their photograph and party affiliation (if any) to be shown by the “symbol” of that party. If there is no party affiliation, a separate “symbol” will be used for independent candidates.
Any voter can still assist another person to vote “as a friend” by witnessing only. Section 49, subsection 4 provides for the presiding officer to assist a voter in marking his/her ballot “in the presence of the poll clerk and, if so requested by the elector, the presence of a friend.”
The amending bill makes it a criminal offense to assist more than one person – punishable by up to six months in prison upon conviction.