Less than two dozen of the 1,500-plus voters reviewed by Elections Office staff have declined to verify that they signed the petition calling for a referendum on the port project.
If that ratio holds through the rest of the verification process, then campaigners could be well on the way to hitting their target. However the figure does not include any numbers for signatures disqualified by the Elections Office as invalid or not belonging to a registered voter. Those figures are expected to be released in the coming weeks.
So far the Elections Office has received verification forms from 27% of the 5,438 people who signed the petition.
Even if some signatures are ultimately not verified, there is some leeway for the campaigners. The target to trigger a referendum is 5,289 – 25% of the electorate.
That means 150 signatures would have to be discounted before the petition could be deemed to have not met the target.
Meanwhile the campaigners continue to collect signatures and plan to submit an addendum to the petition in the coming weeks.
Elections Supervisor Wesley Howell said the overwhelming majority of people visited by elections staff so far had confirmed that they signed the petition.
“As of Monday July 8, our verification teams encountered a small number of persons, less than two dozen, who have declined to sign verification forms,” he said in response to questions from the Compass.
“Elections Office verifiers are documenting each of these encounters, and our field supervisors and senior team are reviewing each of the instances. As such, while the reviews are under way, we are not able to publicly share the exact reasons why persons are declining to be verified at this time. However, we expect to be able to share those numbers in the coming weeks.”
In a separate press release earlier this week, referendum campaigners welcomed the progress being made in verifying the petition and urged anyone who has not yet verified and will be away for the summer to do so before they leave.
“CPR have been following closely the verification process and are very happy to hear that verification has already reached over 1,500 signatures. We are hopeful that the success rate will continue,” the group said.
“We are confident that the information that CPR submitted is accurate, following a detailed and meticulous internal verification process completed with a voters registration list from the Elections Office.”
In an interview with the Compass this week, Governor Martyn Roper backed the verification process taking place and said people should have nothing to fear from confirming their signatures.
Roper also endorsed calls for referendum legislation to be introduced in the Cayman Islands.
He said he believes it is right, in this case, for every signature on the cruise port referendum to be individually verified by the Elections Office.
But in the long-term he believes a law governing how referendums are handled is needed.
He said he was in close touch with Elections Supervisor Howell and believed that the initial scepticism about the verification process was evaporating in the face of the diligent work being done by the office.
“I sense that some of the fears have gone away,” he said.
“We have to remember that for whatever reason, we don’t have a law setting out how we do referendums. That is something that will have to be put in place once we have got through this process. It probably wouldn’t be right to do it now, but I think we will have to put in place the regulations on how you do referendums in the future.”
Without that legislation, he said he supported a thorough verification process for the petition.
“I think it is right to err on the side of caution and do things … transparently [and] in line with the law.
“I think it was the right decision to verify all the signatures – let’s see how that process goes.”
The only law governing people-initiated referendums is the brief wording in the Constitution that states if a petition signed by over 25% of the electorate is presented to Cabinet on a matter of national importance, a referendum must be called.
Specific legislation has not yet been drafted, but could potentially be introduced to clear up ambiguities, including the definition of the term ‘national importance’, the procedure for collecting and verifying petitions, and the time limitations for different phases of the process.
With the current process under way, Roper said it was important for people to trust in the integrity of the Elections Office. He said anyone who signed the petition should have no fears about verifying, and there would be no additional exposure through the process.
“I heard a number of people express fears that civil servants feel intimidated. I don’t sense that and I don’t see it at all. A number of civil servants have signed it and had their signatures verified. From what I see there isn’t really anyone that needs to be concerned about verifying.”