Commonwealth officials to observe Cayman elections

The Cayman Islands’ first election in more than 50 years under the one man, one vote system will be observed by international officials from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.

The observers will be on island before the May 24 election and will observe political campaigning and electoral administration, as well as voter registration and accessibility.

On election day, observers will oversee the voting process, the counting and tabulation of votes and any post-election complaints.

A group of Commonwealth observers attended Cayman’s 2013 general election and generally gave the territory a “clean bill of health” as far as its democratic processes were concerned.

Elections Supervisor Wesley Howell said he welcomes the observers for the 2017 vote.

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“The changes to Cayman’s electoral system makes the mission particularly relevant to ensure independent scrutiny of the process,” Mr. Howell said.

One key concern from the 2013 Commonwealth association election report, equality of voting, was at least partially addressed through the formation of single-member districts where each eligible voter gets to cast only one vote. In Cayman’s earlier multimember voting system, an elector could vote for between one and six candidates, depending on the district where they lived.

However, Commonwealth observers also noted that the size of the voting districts under one man, one vote should be relatively similar – within about 10 percent to 15 percent variance. Under Cayman’s new voting map, the smallest district, Cayman Brac East, is three times smaller than the largest district, Bodden Town East.

In addition, concerns about both candidate and voter eligibility raised by the Commonwealth observers in 2013 continue to trouble the territory.

At least one human rights complaint was filed this year regarding an issue that international observers flagged four years ago.

The issue involves legal requirements that a voter be resident in the Cayman Islands for periods amounting to not less than two years in the four years before the final registration date ahead of the general election date.

“This requirement … might have prevented a number of otherwise eligible Caymanians from exercising their right to vote,” the CPA report stated. That requirement was never changed.

Legal changes were made regarding how candidate eligibility claims were handled before the May 24 election. Those changes were put to the test recently in court challenges against three candidates. Two of the three were disqualified for various reasons.

Although the candidate eligibility claims were decided well before the general election date this time around, several elected politicians and political hopefuls have noted Cayman’s Constitution Order, 2009, is somewhat unclear in stating who can run for office.

The six-person election observer team led by Malta MP Mario Galea in 2013 noted certain candidate restrictions appeared to be “unreasonably limiting” the right of all Caymanians to stand for elective office. For instance, Mr. Galea noted the peculiar wording that a person can be disqualified if “he or she is by virtue of his or her own act under and acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power or state.”

“The lack of clarity in the Constitution Order, 2009, on what constitutes his or her own act led the Elections Office … to make different decisions in similar cases,” the Commonwealth observers’ initial report noted.

The requirements of residency in the territory before elections is also a problem, Commonwealth observers noted.

“While to a large extent these requirements are reasonable, some of them – namely the required durations of residence in the Cayman Islands before the nomination – appear to be unreasonably limiting the right to stand for elective office,” the Commonwealth report noted.

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