Ruling Progressives party pledges voter challenges

The switch to 19 single-member voting districts ahead of the upcoming May 2017 general election has suddenly made the home address of prospective voters very important.

“We are very conscious of how critical every vote is.”

Premier Alden McLaughlin said last week that voters, who have become accustomed to casting ballots in one of six larger, multi-member voting districts, will now find themselves participating in constituencies of 1,100 voters or fewer, in some cases, where individual votes will be determined by strict boundary lines, with two districts in the Sister Islands and 17 drawn on Grand Cayman.

In a heated, four or five-candidate race in George Town, it’s possible that just 250-300 votes could decide a district. There is no “run off” election in the Cayman Islands, so the first-place candidate in any constituency wins. Voters must cast ballots within the district in which they live, although political candidates do not have to reside in the districts in which they stand for election.

“We are very conscious of how critical every vote is,” Premier McLaughlin said. “[The Progressives party] is in the process of setting up a system so that when the revised [voters] lists are published, we will go through the lists and check … to ensure that people who say they are living in a certain area as of Dec. 31, 2016 were living there. If we have reason to object, we will file it with the magistrate.”

Such voter challenges in the past, which would be filed with the chief magistrate, have been somewhat rare, Mr. McLaughlin said.

“A vote here, or two, people didn’t really worry so much about it,” he said. “Now that the numbers are so small [in single-member constituencies], you’ve really got to make sure the people who are voting are registered in that district.”

There are two main areas that become difficult for voter registration under the single-member constituencies. The first involves a voter who moves between the final registration date of Dec. 31 and election day, May 24, 2017.

Elections Supervisor Wesley Howell told a crowd of Progressives supporters during a meeting last week that if people register in one voting district before Dec. 31, they must cast their ballot in that district on election day, not in the voting district to which they have moved. Typically, Mr. Howell said, registering officers that work for the elections office will have accepted some proof that the voter did indeed reside at the earlier address.

“It can be challenging,” Mr. Howell said.

The second difficulty can arise with a voter who owns multiple residences around the Cayman Islands. They are only able to vote at the home stated as their primary place of residence in the islands, according to the recently approved Elections Bill.

In some cases, Mr. Howell said, neighbors will challenge the revised voters list released by the Elections Office, if they believe that person no longer resides at that location. Mr. Howell said this is one of the reasons the office has been sending representatives door-to-door to check on voters’ addresses ahead of Dec. 31, which is the last date anyone in Cayman can put their names on the voters list for the May general election.

In the case of an individual who will turn age 18 [voting age] as of May 24, 2017, they are allowed to register now, but must bring valid identification to show that they will reach the age of the majority as of election day.