Legislators from both sides of the political aisle backed constitutional change that would make it easier for Caymanians living abroad to vote in general elections and for qualified Caymanians to seek political office, even if they have spent significant time overseas.
“I actually saw Caymanians with tears in their eyes who flew back home [for the May election] and then were told they cannot vote,” Health Minister Dwayne Seymour said. “We need to make changes for that.”
“Our Election[s] Law needs serious reform,” East End MLA Arden McLean said. “Voters registration: A Caymanian gets on it, they don’t come off, whether they live in Timbuktu or Russia.”
Mr. McLean’s comment does not reflect what the Elections Law or the Constitution Order, 2009, states now.
The issue was raised by a group of Commonwealth elections observers who visited Cayman in May and said the “reasonableness” of current rules regarding who can vote and who can run should be looked into. The Progressives-led government has not said whether any such review would be forthcoming within its current four-year term.
Qualification for voter registration now requires a Caymanian to reside in the islands for at least two of the four years before the final registration deadline for a general election.
“This period appears to be overly restrictive and may operate to exclude otherwise eligible Caymanians from exercising their right to vote,” the Commonwealth observers noted.
For political 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 stated.
The difficulty with any electoral change is that it is generally not viewed as a priority until the next election cycle comes around. For instance, in the case of the May 2017 election, significant changes to the voting system – agreed in 2015 – were not put in place in the Elections Law until about six months before the election took place.
Elections Supervisor Wesley Howell said that short timeline for elections changes is also frowned upon by the Commonwealth.
“[Commonwealth observers noted] that changes to the Elections Law should be passed at least 12 months before the election,” Mr. Howell said.
George Town Central MLA Kenneth Bryan asked Mr. Howell whether he had any indication if there would be changes to the election status quo. Mr. Howell said qualifications for voters and candidates are enshrined in the Constitution Order and any change to those would require a change in the constitution.
Typically, constitutional changes in Cayman must be agreed between the U.K. government and the ruling local government, with the assent of the majority of Legislative Assembly members, before they are put into effect.