Even though it has estimated a record number of registered voters for next spring’s general election, the Cayman Islands Elections Office said this week that it appears a majority of younger Caymanians are not taking part.
As of Oct. 20, the elections office had 19,448 registered voters, the highest number this British Overseas Territory has ever recorded. Elections Supervisor Wesley Howell said he expects that by registration deadline – which is Dec. 31 at present – there will be more than 20,000 voters registered for the first time in Cayman’s history.
Mr. Howell said this growth in eligible voters was expected, largely because the number of Caymanians has grown since the last election, with both status-holders gaining the right to vote and more younger Caymanians reaching the age of the majority (age 18), when they are allowed to vote.
However, Mr. Howell said elections office staff noted a disturbing trend as they went door-to-door in the districts over the past month to review voter eligibility: Younger people did not want to register.
“We spoke to young Caymanians during these visits about how to register and many said they weren’t interested,” he said. “The reason a lot of them gave was they didn’t want to be chosen for jury duty.”
According to statistics compiled by the Elections Office comparing the total population to the number of registered voters in each age group, people aged 15-24 made up about 17 percent of the islands’ population, but just 2.6 percent of the registered voters. The stats are skewed because people ages 15-17 cannot register to vote, but Mr. Howell said it was clear the younger age group was not exercising their democratic right as much as they could.
By way of comparison, older Caymanians appeared far more likely to vote in the upcoming election. Individuals age 50 and up accounted for nearly 33 percent of those registered to vote in the next election, according to the elections office.
Mr. Howell also noted that although Cayman would have a record number of voters registered ahead of the May 24, 2017 general election, close to one-quarter of eligible voters had not registered as of late October, the latest numbers available.
“We estimate about 5,000 people are eligible, but haven’t registered to vote,” he said.
The elections office has competed its door-to-door voter canvassing exercise as of this week, save for a few areas in George Town district, Mr. Howell said. It’s the first one the office has done, since the requirement to perform the voter check ended about 20 years ago.
Mr. Howell said, with the advent of single-member voting districts, it is particularly important to determine that registered voters actually live at the residence they have stated on the registration form.
The largest districts on the new 19-district map will have just 1,100 voters and some smaller districts, such as East End, North Side and the Sister Islands’ districts will have approximately 600. A hotly contested race could be decided by just a few hundred ballots.
The elections supervisor also said he was satisfied that most voters understood the concept of ‘one man, one vote’, being adopted for the first time since the 1950s in Cayman. He acknowledged that some voters, used to the multimember district system, are disappointed they cannot vote for the candidate “they really want” if that candidate does not seek election in their area.