Commission: Voter registration rules may not comply with human rights

Deputy Elections Supervisor Sheena Glasgow and Supervisor Wesley Howell review district voting maps at elections headquarters on Smith Road. – Photo: Taneos Ramsay

Current rules that require Caymanian voters to be resident in the islands for at least two out of four years before the last registration date before an election may not comply with the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Cayman Islands Human Rights Commission reviewed the issue after it received a complaint from a voter last September. The complaint was filed after the voter went to court on Sept. 12 to challenge a decision by the Elections Office in 2012 that prevented the voter from participating in the May 2013 general election. The decision also precluded the person from voting in the 2017 general election based on their residency outside the islands for more than two of the past four years before the last voter registration date. The last voter registration date for the May 24 election was Jan. 16.

Without commenting on the merits of the specific complaint, the Human Rights Commission noted that section 90 of the Constitution Order, 2009, which requires citizens over age 18 to be resident in the islands “no less than” two years out of the four years immediately preceding the registration date “may be incompatible with the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

“The commission found that whilst the case law demonstrated an allowance for restrictions on voter registration eligibility where residency is not maintained, all cases examined have a far shorter or immediate reinstitution of eligibility once the individual returns to the jurisdiction,” the Human Rights Commission review of the matter stated.

Commission members said they requested advice on the issue after consulting with the Cayman Islands Constitutional Commission.

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Government documents, including emails obtained by the Cayman Compass, state the voter’s claims during the Sept. 12 court hearing were that the voter was registered as an elector in the mid-1980s. The voter then spent a number of years living outside the Cayman Islands but was allowed to vote via postal ballot in the May 2005 and May 2009 general elections.

The voter argued that the date they registered to vote was a “single date” and alleged their removal from the register of electors in July 2012 was therefore wrong in law.

In a Sept. 19 email to the voter involved in the registration challenge, Supervisor of Elections Wesley Howell contended that the person’s understanding of how voter registration works in Cayman was not correct: “The legal provisions for removing persons not living in the Cayman Islands for the specified number of years from the register of electors goes back many years.”

Mr. Howell stated that Magistrate Nova Hall, in her capacity as electoral revising officer, agreed with the Elections Office’s interpretation of the matter. According to the Elections Law, the registration date is the first day of January, April, July or October next occurring after the previous register of electors comes into force.

“The registration date is not a single point in time and, for [the voter], it is not back in 1986, as the registration date happens four times a year as per the Elections Law,” Mr. Howell wrote on Sept. 19. “[The voter’s] removal from the register in 2012, at the July 1, 2012 registration date was, in fact, correct and was in keeping with the Elections Law and the Cayman Islands Constitution [Order 2009], as the date of registration for which [the voter] failed to maintain … eligibility is July 1, 2012.”

In the Human Rights Commission complaint, the voter alleges the Elections Office acted outside the scope of the Cayman Islands Constitution Order (2009) and that officials were being “over-reaching and excessively punitive” in misinterpreting the law to use residency to remove an already registered elector.

“The constitution speaks to residency at the initial date of registration when an eligible Caymanian first registers to vote, something that is permanent and a once-in-a-lifetime process for all intents and purposes, if the Caymanian is not disqualified under the conviction clause [for a criminal offense],” the complaint states.

“The right to vote is such a sacred right that the Cayman Islands government cannot put a tether on Caymanians and effectively say that they can go but not too far or too long,” the complaint states.

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