Q&A with Elections Supervisor Wesley Howell

Professionalism and integrity key goals for vote supervisor

Responsibility for running Cayman’s first-ever people’s-initiated referendum lies in the hands of Elections Supervisor Wesley Howell.

The experienced civil servant, who temporarily relinquished his role as a chief officer to assume control of the poll, has been hard at work getting ready for the historic day.

We sat down with Howell to ask some of the key questions about how the vote will work on the day.

What will it take to hold a referendum?

A lot of experience, individuals well trained with our established policies and practices and being able to go out and do what they need to do in order to get postal ballots issued on time.

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To have a trusted, transparent process and deliver mobile voting to those who cannot make it out to the polls. And then to deliver transparency again and accuracy and professional on Referendum Day, and the same in the evenings when we count the ballot papers and deliver the result.

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How does it compare to an election?

It is very similar; except we do not have candidates and agents. We have observers in relation to that process, but very similar in relation to how we prepare and how we execute.

Why does the referendum require a 50% plus 1 majority?

You would have to ask the framers of the Constitution. Referendums can be advisory or binding. The binding referendums, which the people’s-initiated referendums are, has that high bar of 50% plus one of not those that come out to vote, but those who are registered on the register of electors.

What are the rules around campaigning on Referendum Day?

The rules have been quite similar to a general election in relation to that, but in previous referendums there haven’t been very stringent rules around much of the campaigning. Nothing prevents canvassing.

Where do people vote?

Persons will vote in the polling divisions they are registered to, in the electoral district in which they are registered. So, if you are in Savannah, you would vote at, more than likely, the Savannah Primary School because that’s the location there. So that’s information we would provide ahead of time; individuals can look themselves up online and we will have lots of notices as to where those polling locations are.

But each of the 19 electoral districts would have polling divisions, and persons that cannot make it out to the polls because of illness or otherwise, if they are working on Referendum Day, we can do mobile voting, which is early voting. Persons who are off-island or travelling can vote via postal ballots.

How can people check to make sure they are eligible to vote?

Check the voters list. It is extremely important, especially for persons who have been sentenced. If you have been sentenced to more than 12 months, we remove you [from] the list automatically.

You do not go back on automatically, you have to re-register. Persons declared of unsound mind and persons who lost their right to vote through residency requirements, who have been away from the islands in excess of the period specified in the law, [won’t be eligible to vote].

What if they have changed residence since the last election?

They really should tell us where they are. They have opportunities to fill out what we call a Form 13, that’s available on our website. Update their information and it will become effective in the next electors list. But persons would vote where they are registered to vote during the referendum.

Let’s say, for example, some just moved from Savannah to Bodden Town East, they would still vote in Savannah if they have not updated their information in relation to their new address.

How late will the polls be open?

Polls in the past have been open from 7am to 6pm, that’s a hard stop. So, if you are within the boundary of the polling station at that time then you will be allowed to vote; if you are not you will not be able to.

Will prisoners be allowed to vote?

It depends. Persons on remand can vote. Persons that are sentenced to more than 12 months are not actually eligible to vote, that’s a constitutional provision.

So yes, the persons on remand can vote, in the past we had mobile voting or they have been brought to the polling stations by prison officials.

How are you going to vote?

As of becoming Supervisor of Elections I have actually elected, even though I am a registered elector, to not vote.

So I did not vote in the last election and I do not plan to vote in the upcoming ones and that for me is part of my transparency.

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