A team of Commonwealth elections observers has recommended that the Cayman Islands review its electoral boundaries to achieve “greater equality” in voting in the next general election.
“Equal suffrage has not been achieved under the current electoral district boundaries,” states the report, published Tuesday by the six-member observer team. The observers, from a number of Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean and in Europe, spent a week in Cayman around the time of the May 24 election.
“Constituency boundaries should be reviewed with the aim of achieving greater equality between the numbers of electors [voters] within the electoral districts,” the report states. “Deviations from the norm should ideally not be more than 10 to 15 percent.”
Ahead of the May 2017 election, Cayman switched to 19 single-member districts, giving each legally registered Caymanian one vote. Previously, Cayman used a multi-member voting system, in which individuals had anywhere from one to six votes, depending on where they lived.
The Commonwealth observers took issue with the fact that voting populations in each of the single-member districts vary widely, giving the example of Bodden Town East, with 1,513 registered voters and comparing it to East End (692 voters) and North Side (716 voters).
“Bodden Town East is the district in which voters are the most under represented,” the report noted.
The observers said the 2015 Electoral Boundary Commission redistricting effort did “ameliorate” the unfair voting system that existed before 2017, but “a few districts” were still departing from the norm.
On average, Grand Cayman voting districts had 1,186 voters, meaning East End district was about 42 percent smaller than the average district and North Side was about 40 percent smaller.
Cayman Brac and Little Cayman’s two voting districts are also much smaller than the norm on Grand Cayman, but Commonwealth observers said this situation is mandated by the territory’s constitution.
Although Cayman had debated the change to its electoral boundaries for more than five years before the May 2017 election, the legislation enabling the change to the one man, one vote system was not approved until November 2016.
Commonwealth observers opined this was a fairly short time in which to educate the public and make sure voters knew where to go on Election Day.
“A change in the law so close to the election is not considered to be good practice internationally,” the observers wrote.
Despite the short time given, the Cayman Islands Elections Office was praised for its voter education efforts and organization in preparation for the voting change.
“The electoral process ran smoothly,” observers said.
Who can vote?
The report also considered whether voting rights were being extended in the territory to everyone who should have them.
Observers made no direct recommendations on the subject, but opined that the “reasonableness of the current provisions” regarding who can vote should be looked at in any upcoming review of the Cayman Islands Constitution Order, 2009.
“Regardless of the duration of residency, or the attainment of the status of permanent resident, all persons except those holding Caymanian status are ineligible to vote,” the Commonwealth report stated. “This has led to the fact that out of an estimated population of at least 60,000 people, only around 34,000 hold Caymanian status with around 24,000 of them eligible to register to vote.
“The mission received comments from long-term residents without status in the Cayman Islands about their sense of disenfranchisement,” the report continues. “The [observers] mission notes that the issues raised by long term residents are of a constitutional nature.”
Even if a person is Caymanian, eligibility to vote can be elusive in the Cayman Islands, the Commonwealth report noted.
Qualification for voter registration now requires a person to reside in the islands for at least two of the four years before the last registration date for the general election.
“This period appears to be overly restrictive and may operate to exclude otherwise eligible Caymanians from exercising their right to vote,” the report stated.
The observers also highlighted some concerns about vote secrecy.
The Elections Law in Cayman allows for printing a serial number of the ballot paper [where the voters mark “x” by their preferred candidate] and the ballot counterfoil, used as a security measure to ensure the ballot paper given to the voter is the same as the one placed in the ballot box.
“[This makes] the tracing of an individual vote possible, which violates the absolute requirement of a secret ballot,” the observers wrote.
Individuals who vote by mobile or postal balloting could also be identified during the count, officials said.