Alric Lindsay has lived in Cayman since he was a child and was adopted by a Caymanian man. His business is here, as is his home, as is pretty much his entire life.
However, Mr. Lindsay found himself facing a legal challenge to his ability to run for political office earlier this year based on the fact that he had been out of the country for 797 days during the seven years before March 29, 2017 – nomination day for the general election.
A Grand Court decision in mid-April found him eligible to run for office in George Town South, where he finished third out of five candidates. About a month before the vote, he was required to hire a lawyer, go to court and prove he was eligible to stand for election. He believes it made a difference in the campaign.
“Some people thought I was not Caymanian because that is the way the [election challenge] petition was originally worded, to suggest that I wasn’t Caymanian,” Mr. Lindsay said during an interview this week. “I don’t think it affected my ability to run the campaign, but it did affect the effectiveness of that campaign.”
Mr. Lindsay’s situation highlights one of the problems raised by elections observers, as well as by the local Human Rights Commission, about who can stand for office and who can vote for candidates in the Cayman Islands.
In both areas, observers have noted that Caymanians are disadvantaged by vague or outdated rules that restrict their democratic rights.
Mr. Lindsay has a simple solution: “I would remove all residency requirements. Once you’re a citizen, I would remove them. We can’t restrict our own citizens in terms of them having the opportunity to gain international … experience.
“We used to think of Cayman as an isolated place in the Caribbean, but that’s not the case now. Remember, the population is comprised of many different nationalities and backgrounds. Some of those people will eventually get the right to vote. You have to be able to relate to them as a candidate.”
A group of Commonwealth elections observers who visited Cayman in May 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. Government leaders have not said whether any such review would be forthcoming.
“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.”
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 states.
For candidates born outside the islands, the residency requirement is even stricter. It requires them to be present for all but 400 days out of seven years before nomination day for the upcoming general election.
The Commonwealth observer team noted that the Cayman Islands Grand Court has now adjudicated some of these provisions in recent cases, providing some interpretation.
“The judgments are complex, with the result that it is difficult to predict with certainty how the eligibility status of any aspiring candidate will be evaluated,” the observers’ final report states.
Human rights concerns
The Cayman Islands Human Rights Commission reviewed the voting rights issue after it received a complaint from a voter in September 2016. The complaint was filed after the voter went to court on Sept. 12 to challenge a decision by the Elections Office 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.
Rights commission members said they requested advice on the issue after consulting with the Cayman Islands Constitutional Commission.
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.”
“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.”
The voter alleged the Elections Office acted outside the Cayman Islands Constitution Order (2009) and that officials were being “over-reaching and excessively punitive” in using residency to remove an already registered elector.