The final word on how the Cayman Islands’ 2017 general election will be held, including rules for registering political parties and how much candidates can spend in an election, has come down about a month after a flurry of legislative changes were debated in parliament.
Groups of like-minded candidates will not be forced to register as political parties under the newly revised Elections Law, but more stringent rules for the revocation of a political party’s registration have been put in place.
Also, for the first time since the advent of party politics in Cayman, spending limits during the last six weeks of an election campaign will be the same for both political party and non-party affiliated independent candidates. Previously, independent candidates were allowed to spend more [$36,000 limit] during the period than political party candidates [$30,000 limit]. The new spending limit is $40,000 per candidate.
Spending by the political parties themselves is currently unregulated in Cayman. Also, individual candidates may spend anything they like before nomination day, when they officially declare their candidacies for office, without reporting those expenditures.
The Elections Law, 2016 revision, cements the ‘one man, one vote’ concept and formalizes 19 single-member voting districts or constituencies.
Seventeen of those voting districts are on Grand Cayman and two of them are located on the Sister Islands of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. All voters participating in the May election are allowed only one vote for a candidate running in the district in which the voter resides.
Due to the much smaller, single-member districts drawn up under the 2015 Electoral Boundaries Commission maps, a voter’s residence has become crucial in the next election cycle. According to the new Elections Law, a voter can only have one “ordinary residence.” The law gives the Elections Supervisor broad powers to request information from a voter in writing in determining where they live.
Most of the single-member constituencies will have fewer than 1,100 voters casting ballots with no run-off elections. That means a hotly contested election among four or five candidates in one district could be decided by fewer than 300 votes.
A previously lengthy section of the Elections Bill that discussed when and how groups of candidates who “acted like” a political party must register with the Elections Office has been completely removed from the law.
One sentence in the amended law now states that “a group of persons who come together to contest an election shall be eligible to register as a political party.”
The law also gives the elections supervisor the power to revoke the registration of a political party, or refuse such an application.
In any case, the spending limits for political party candidates and independent candidates will not be different during the run up to the May 2017 election, so the key legal difference separating those two kinds of candidates has been removed.
The law also sets out an expedited process for determining whether or not a candidate is eligible to contest an election. The process allows the elections supervisor to apply to the Grand Court for a ruling on that candidate’s eligibility, a ruling which – once made – cannot be appealed to any other judicial body.
One such challenge dating back from the 2013 election was still pending before the local courts as of last month. The candidate in question – West Bay MLA Tara Rivers – had her eligibility confirmed by the process, but ensuing bankruptcy claims against the legal challengers have persisted for years after the fact.
Elections Supervisor Wesley Howell has stated publicly that his office will designate 19 separate voting stations for each single-member district ahead of the next election.
However, the Elections Law makes provision for voting in one district to be carried out in another area, if there are no suitable facilities within the boundaries of the district.
Political candidates do not have to reside within the district in which they stand for office, but those candidates must be nominated by two individuals who do live in the district.