The petition calling for a people’s vote on the controversial cruise berthing project was handed over to the Elections Office Wednesday in what was described as a “historic moment” for the Cayman Islands.
It is the first time a group of voters has attempted to trigger the clause in the territory’s Constitution allowing for a people-initiated referendum on issues of national importance. The campaigners submitted two thick bundles which they say contain signatures from more than 5,300 registered voters. A notarised copy was also handed over to the Governor’s office.
Katrina Jurn, of Cruise Port Referendum Cayman, said it was an honour for the group to present the petition on behalf of the thousands of people who had signed their names to the cause.
Wesley Howell, who accepted the document on behalf of the Elections Office, said the process to verify the list would begin immediately. He will take a temporary leave of absence from his day job as chief officer in the Ministry of Employment and Border Control to lead the process full-time and will report directly to the governor.
Howell said around 100 temporary staff will be hired in the coming weeks to begin a door-to-door verification of every signature on the list. He said they would not stop until they had reached everyone or they had hit the threshold of verifying 25% of the electorate – roughly 5,300 voters – required by the Constitution to initiate a referendum.
He added that he was confident his staff would be able to complete that process quickly and efficiently. As well as conducting house calls, staff will host community events and reach out by phone to people overseas, and signers of the document can come into the Elections Office.
“We will do everything in our power to verify the names on the list. I doubt that we are going to have huge numbers of persons that we won’t be able to find or that can’t find us,” Howell said.
Even if the petition is verified, there is still no guarantee that a vote on the dock will take place. Premier Alden McLaughlin has said government has taken legal advice and will take the “appropriate and advised” course of action once the verified petition is received by Cabinet.
Matthew Forbes, who accepted a copy of the petition on behalf of Governor Martyn Roper, said he would not pre-judge Cabinet’s decision on that aspect.
He said the governor, who is in London at the moment and was unable to be present at the handover of the petition on Wednesday, had committed to ensure a fair process.
“Once this is verified, it will go to Cabinet and the governor has been very clear that he will ensure that this is done in a fair and transparent manner in accordance with the law and make sure that the constitution is upheld at every turn,” Forbes said.
There are no time limits for the verification process, but both Howell and Forbes expressed confidence that it could be done quickly.
Howell said that, in the absence of clear laws or regulations around petitions, the legal advice to the Elections Office was that it must verify every signature, rather than using sampling or other statistical methods.
Speaking after the handover, one of the campaign organisers, Johann Moxam, said the campaigners were taking legal advice on their next steps.
He said it was a proud moment for the group and a historic day for Cayman, but acknowledged this was just “step one” of the process and cautioned that “strategies and tactics” were expected from government.
“We are comfortable and confident that we have done everything we are supposed to do,” Moxam said. “Today is a good day for participatory democracy. It is the first time the Cayman people are standing together and putting actions behind their concerns.
“We are confident we will be on the right side of history.”