Hundreds of Caymanian voters are likely being disenfranchised by rules that require them to live in the territory for two out of four years before the last registration date for a general election, a team of international observers said Friday.
Although the six Commonwealth elections observers gave Cayman the highest possible marks for the conduct of the May 24 general election, they suggested that some local laws governing elections need to be updated.
“[The two year residency period] appears to us to be overly restrictive and may operate to exclude otherwise eligible Caymanians from exercising their right to vote,” said Steve Rodan, the head of mission for the observers.
Mr. Rodan, the President of Tynwald in the British dependency the Isle of Man, said similar rules in his own country would prevent a citizen returning to the island from voting for up to a year.
As far as he was aware, he said the two-year residence requirement Cayman maintains is unique in the Commonwealth.
Mr. Rodan said the residency issue should be considered separately from whether Cayman Islands nationals have an “enduring right to vote” if they live abroad. However, once those individuals have returned home, it’s a different story, he said.
“Should you have to wait two years before you put your name in the [voting] register again? Personally, I don’t think so,” he said.
The residency issue for voters was highlighted in a 2013 report from another group of Commonwealth elections observers, but Mr. Rodan said it appears no progress had been made in the last four years toward changing it.
“For people not to be unreasonably disenfranchised, this really must be looked at by the authorities,” he said.
In addition to voting rights, the right of a Caymanian citizen to stand for election is “difficult to predict” at the moment, the observers said.
Mr. Rodan said there have been some judgments from the Cayman courts in recent years concerning whether holders of dual citizenship can seek public office. However, he said the court decisions only address those specific cases and individuals seeking election here are often uncertain about whether they are eligible candidates.
Three legal challenges to candidates’ eligibility came before the courts during this election season and in two of the instances, those candidates were disqualified after they had already been nominated.
Similar to the voter registration situation, local laws also impose a requirement for residence in the territory for candidates.
Those residency rules “appear to impose unreasonable limits on the right to stand for public office,” the elections observers noted.
Elections observers noted that voting and candidate residency rules are a constitutional legal issue in Cayman and “may not be able to be addressed overnight.”
As far as the conduct of the May 24 election itself, the Cayman Islands “amply met the international standard” for democratic and transparent elections, the Commonwealth observers said.
“The results truly do reflect the will of the people,” said Mr. Rodan. “Cayman can feel confident in its processes … whether or not they are pleased with the results.”
The six observers spent the week in Cayman checking everything from elections advertising, to news coverage, to ballot counting and voter registration.
Mr. Rodan said legal principles of freedom of expression, freedom of movement and freedom of assembly were all respected.
He also commended the Elections Office staff and Supervisor Wesley Howell for their “meticulous attention to detail.”
Equality of voting principles were met by the adoption of the “one man, one vote” procedure during the 2017 general election, according to elections observers.
However, Mr. Rodan did note that two voting districts on Grand Cayman “depart from the norm” when it comes to the size of the voting districts.
The districts of East End and North Side, both with about 700 voters apiece, are significantly smaller than 1,186 average voters in the remainder of Grand Cayman’s other 15 voting districts.