Campaigners for a referendum on the cruise port are 70% of the way towards hitting the target to trigger a vote, according to the Elections Office.

A total of 3,705 of the required 5,292 signatures have been verified, while 76 petitioners have declined to sign verification forms.

Though the Verdant Isle group has been selected as the preferred bidder on the project, no contract will be signed until after the verification process and potentially a referendum takes place.

The Elections Office has also indicated that more than 600 names, referenced by Premier Alden McLaughlin as having been discounted from the petition, were highlighted by the campaigners themselves as part of their internal verification process and were not officially submitted to the Elections Office for verification.

McLaughlin indicated in a press conference on Monday that government would “respect the constitution” and hold a referendum if the target is met.

He said the Progressives had been instrumental in ensuring the framework for people-initiated-referenda were part of the constitution. But he insisted the threshold of 25% of the electorate must be met before any national poll on the cruise port project would be called.

“It [the constitution] does not say ‘almost 25% of the electors’, and so the only way one can validate whether the test of ‘not less than 25 percent’ is truly met is to validate every signature. “We are small enough and have the ability to carry out this necessary verification to conform to the requirements of the constitution. Undoubtedly, despite the early noise, this is proving true with no issues and with no interference or intimidation as some proffered as inevitable in this process.”

The premier went on to refer to more than 600 signatures submitted with the petition that had been discounted as either duplicates or belonging to people not registered as voters.

The referendum campaign said they believed he was referring to signatures they had highlighted themselves when they submitted the petition.

Elections Supervisor Wesley Howell confirmed that the group had indeed highlighted 241 signatures as “multiple submissions” and 374 signatures as not corresponding with the electoral roll in its initial submission of more than 6,000 names. These were discounted before the process began and were not included in the total 5,438 signatures submitted for verification.

Howell said the same process had taken place with the additional list of names submitted by the group. The addition list of 229 signatures were handed over by CPR Cayman, of which 30 were identified in advance by the group as being invalid.

Howell said, “With each of the submissions, the CPR performed its own assessment on its petition signatures to help in ensuring validity of the process; and the CPR team worked to eliminate the names of non-voters, in keeping with Section 70 of the Cayman Islands Constitution Order 2009.

“I would like to thank the CPR team for their continued support in helping to expedite the verification process.”

Officials are continuing to review the 1,932 signatures currently remaining to be verified. A total of 1,587 verification forms still need to be confirmed for a referendum to take place.

McLaughlin said at Monday’s press conference that government would not try to prevent a referendum if the signatures are verified. He said speculation that they would try to interfere with the petition verification process was unfounded.