Cayman’s first elections with single-member constituencies take place May 24, a new system that has been alternately praised and disparaged through the years.
The reform marks a milestone in electoral development, the most fundamental change since the 1959 constitution, amended in the past two years, and summed up by one independent candidate as “giving the opportunity to get up close with voters.”
The candidate says the 19-district system is not what he might have chosen, but “we have it now, and we have to move forward.”
West Bay voter and head of Concerned Citizens Alice Mae Coe long ago predicted what would happen. Single-member constituencies would “provide voters with strong constituency representation because each voter has a single, easily identifiable, constituency representative; encourage constituency service by providing voters with an easily identifiable ombudsman; maximize accountability because a single representative can be held responsible and can be re-elected or defeated in the next election; and ensure geographic representation.”
Like some, however, she too had reservations.
The candidate suggested the new system encouraged “silo thinking,” in which candidates focus sharply only on their constituents and their district – no matter how small. And some of the wards have only 500 members.
Ms. Coe complained the new constituencies “must be redrawn on a regular basis to maintain populations of relatively equal size,” fearing they “are usually artificial geographic entities whose boundaries do not delineate clearly identifiable communities and, as a consequence, the entities have no particular relevance to citizens.”
Finally, she observed, they had a “tendency to over-represent the majority party and under-represent other parties,” and are unlikely to “produce proportional representation for political parties.”
Single-member constituencies have been discussed for decades.
Recent developments started with the 2010 Electoral Boundary Commission, which suggested 18 voting districts. An 8,118-vote referendum in July 2012 broadly favored “one man, one vote” with each of the existing six districts, except West Bay, in support. The poll failed to achieve the required 7,582 votes required by the constitution.
As a result, “one man, one vote” failed to change the May 22, 2013 elections, conducted under the old multimember constituency system. However, a post-election report by a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association called the system “disproportionate,” pointing out that four districts in Cayman sent between two and six members to the Legislative Assembly, while two others – East End and North Side – seated only a single MLA.
About the same time, Cayman’s Elections Commission observed the multimember system was used in only 15 countries.
In early 2015, the Legislative Assembly amended the 2013 Elections Law, mandating a new three-member boundary commission, appointed by Governor Helen Kilpatrick.
The Legislative Assembly ordered the commission “to recommend electoral district boundaries to enable the establishment of single-member constituencies in the Cayman Islands, with each elector having one vote.”
The panel was to “invite views from members of the public … and submit a report to the governor and the Legislative Assembly.”
Significantly, the order said, “so far as reasonably practicable, across all electoral districts, there will be an equal ratio between the number of elected members of the Legislative Assembly representing each electoral district and the number of persons qualified to be registered as electors in that district.”
On Aug. 20, the commission submitted the results, including a series of maps recommending 19 electoral districts, which Ms. Kilpatrick officially implemented on Nov. 19.
A March 2, 2016 government media release said the 19 single-member boundaries recommended by the commission bore “many similarities with the constituency boundaries recommended by the previous [commissions],” although, “in an attempt to balance the number of electors within each boundary, the 2015 [commission] recommended changes …” which created a new boundary in western Bodden Town and another in eastern George Town.
Deputy Supervisor of Elections Sheena Glasgow said the mechanics of the system are simple. Each district has a single polling place and voters select a single name from a list that may boast any number of independents or party-affiliated candidates.
“The system favors the electors, holding one person accountable,” she said.
Ms. Glasgow rejected criticism that the single-member system strips voters – in previously multimember districts – of their right to cast several ballots, and that they can no longer seek advice from more than one MLA.
“We are dealing with approved, elected persons carrying out [a mandate] from and for the electors.
“If you speak to electors in North Side or East End, this is nothing new.” In the past, she observed, “they could complain that the others get to vote more than they do.”
“It depends on who you ask. I would simply not wish anyone to forget that they have the democratic right to vote.”
The 19 constituencies retain four West Bay districts, but with new boundaries: West Bay North, with 1,123 voters; West Bay West, with 1,225 voters; West Bay Central, with 1,057; and West Bay South, with 1,340.
George Town now has seven districts: GT North, with 1,155 voters; GT Central, with 1,257; GT West, with 1,227; GT South, with 1,209; and GT East, with 1,267. The boundary commission carved two new areas – Red Bay, with 1,175 voters; and Prospect, also with 1,175 – out of the old George Town constituency.
A new Savannah district, previously part of the larger Bodden Town area, has 1,336 voters; and Newlands, also separated from Bodden Town, boasts 1,256.
Bodden Town West has 1,441 voters; and Bodden Town East, 1,513.
North Side, with 716 electors; and East End, with 692, both long-time single-member districts, remain unchanged.
Finally, Cayman Brac has been carved into two districts, one of which, CB West, with 578 voters, now encompasses Little Cayman, previously an independent constituency. CB East contains 484 electors.
The total number of eligible voters tallies 21,226.