The Elections Office has defended the integrity of the voting process on Referendum Day amid a row over the counting of ballots at one central location.
In a statement Thursday evening, the Elections Office responded to concerns raised by Bodden Town West MLA Chris Saunders over the holding of one national count of votes on 19 Dec.
He suggested such a practice was impractical and would hamper legislators’ ability to determine how their constituents feel about the proposed cruise berthing and cargo project.
However, the Elections Office statement said, “Supervisor of Elections Wesley Howell assures voters in the Cayman Islands that the Election Law and Elections Office staff take every precaution to ensure that votes will remain secret at the time of the count, regardless if the vote is submitted by postal ballot, mobile ballot or is cast in person on Referendum Day.”
Howell in the statement added that “Elections Office polling teams have been training since September to ensure that the Cayman Islands Elections Office continues to plan and execute elections and referendums that meet or exceed international best practices”.
Government officials have also maintained that the process of one count for the referendum is appropriate for a vote on an issue of national importance.
Head of the Premier’s Office Roy Tatum, in a written response to queries from the Cayman Compass, said “The Government has carefully considered the matter and has determined that it is in the national interest to provide a national count for a referendum on a matter of National Importance. Just as was done in the 2009 referendum.”
On Thursday, Cruise Port Referendum Cayman’s Mario Rankin joined the growing chorus of voices in the community expressing concerns over government’s decision to have all referendum votes from across the three islands counted at one central location in Grand Cayman.
“We have never had a central counting station for votes, and we have never allowed liquor-licensed places to be opened,” Rankin said.
He said government should reconsider these plans, especially given the magnitude of the implications of the 19 Dec. vote on government’s proposed $200 million cruise berthing and cargo project.
“What makes the referendum different from the election process that is already in place? This confusing. It is suspect to me they would make these changes,” Rankin argued.
However, Tatum said there should be no concern around the integrity of the process since there will be Elections Office officials, as well as local and international observers on hand on Referendum Day to oversee the vote.
On Monday, local lawmakers will return to the Legislative Assembly to debate the proposed provisions of the Referendum Bill, which will establish the process for Cayman’s first people-initiated referendum. The provisions paving the way for a single national counting of votes and allowing liquor-licensed premises to remain open on Referendum Day will be among the issues discussed.
Rankin questioned the thinking behind having a central location to count votes for the referendum, saying it would only serve to delay the process.
“Concern is that, obviously, we would have to wait for boxes to come from Little Cayman and Cayman Brac if we are doing central counting,” he said, adding that the boxes from each polling station on Grand Cayman would have to be driven to the central location.
Rankin pointed out that Premier Alden McLaughlin has said he wants to allow liquor-licensed businesses to remain open so there is no disruption during the holiday season.
However, he said, the premier has yet to explain why the counting process is being changed for the referendum, compared to the district-by-district counts done during general elections.
“There is too much area for compromise. I do not understand what is the reasoning for this. It will be interesting to hear what the international observers will have to say about this process,” Rankin said.
He added that these issues were raised with Governor Martyn Roper when CPR met with him recently.