District boundaries

| 06/05/2015 | 13 Comments

Viewpoint newAttila the Hun writes: The current debate being raged by the Caymanian Compass, the leader of the opposition (LOO) and the premier (although he seems to have backed off and is leaving the fight to LOO) to combine the two districts of North Side and East End into one electoral district, returning one representative, has no merit and is pure ‘politrics’ and Machiavellianism by both political parties as a way to delay the introduction of One Person One Vote (OPOV) beyond the 2017 elections.

There are two interpretations or definitions of districts; one is the geographical, historical, cultural and social districts in the Cayman Island. They are currently six such districts in the Cayman Islands: West Bay, George Town, Bodden Town, East End, North Side and Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. These geographical districts are not unlike states in America or Provinces in Canada. While they are much smaller and do not have the elaborate governance structure, they are just as distinct. The other is the definition of districts as electoral districts in the election law, which have the same footprint as the geographical district boundaries.

The current instrument on which the Electoral Boundaries Commission (EBC) is appointed introduces a new term: Single Member Electoral Districts (SMED), in contrast to the language used in the national debate which discussed Single Member Constituencies (SMC). The government motion on which the EBC relies also uses the term SMED.

The private member’s motion which started this process spoke to eighteen SMCs within the recognized and established geographic district boundaries.

The introduction of the term SMED allows the unfortunate introduction in the debate that the EBC has the mandate to move and change the traditional district boundaries. This, I believe, is a clever move by those who do really want SMCs but public opinion is pressuring them to introduce.

We have had two EBC reports, both of which fulfilled their mandate without tampering with district boundaries. In 2003 the mandate was to establish 17 single member constituencies in the Cayman Islands, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman being one such SMC returning two representatives. This 2010 EBC was charged to allocate the increase of three seats to the Legislative Assembly as provided in the 2009 constitution.

The 2010 EBC did not allocate the seats but offered three alternatives from which Cabinet could select one. The three alternatives offered were: create 18 SMC (and they produced the map to do this), create a new electoral district called Savannah/Prospect which would return three representatives, and allocate two of the new seats to George Town and one to Bodden Town. The Cabinet of the day chose the last recommendation, although the EBC effectively argued and cautioned against this alternative.

The proponents of merging the geographical districts of North Side and East End into one SMED use the number of electors in each district on which to base and justify their position. Their position being that the inequality between North Side with 600 electors (and growing) compared to either of West Bay’s Four SMEDs of 1,200 electors is unfair and unreasonable.

The only alternative which the EBC seems to be considering to address this seeming shortage of electors in East End and North Side is to merge them to reach their perceived national average of twelve hundred per SMDE. However, they were offered an alternative at the North Side meeting of expanding North Side west along the North Coast to include part of Newlands and Prospect to get the six hundred votes to reach their national average. It was also suggested that East End could be expanded west along the south coast to include Breakers and part of Midland Acres to get the six hundred voters need for East End to reach their national average.  This was apparently rejected because the EBC had to respect existing district boundaries. Interesting conclusion by the EBC on that proposal versus their refusal to take merging East End and North Side off the table for consideration, given the votes against such a proposal at both district meetings.

The equality, delivered, desired and determined by OPOV is not related to equality in electors represented by each representative but rather to the fact that all electors will be equal in their number of votes (one) and their number of opportunities to influence the formation of government (one).

There is no democratic country in the world where such equality in electors per representative exist. Let me give some examples:

Let’s start with the mother country, the United Kingdom – 2010 figures

Manchester Central                                        89,519 electors

Oakney and Shetland                                     33,755 electors (more that 50% less)

Look at Neighboring Constituencies

Manchester Central                                       89,519 electors

Manchester Gorton                                       74,681 electors (16% less)

Manchester Withington                                73,659 electors (17% less)

 

Let’s look at the United States of America – July 2014.

Alabama                                                           4,849,377 electors

Georgia                                                             10, 097,343 electors (twice as many)

Florida                                                               19,893,297 electors (four times as many)

 

Let’s look at Jamaica – Nov 30, 2014.

Kingston Central                                             20,610 electors

St. Andrew West Rural                                  35,630 electors (72 % more)

Westmoreland Central                                  40,180 electors (almost double)

Look at neighboring constituencies

Westmoreland Central                                  40,180 electors

Westmoreland Western                                32,487 electors (20% less)

Westmoreland Eastern                                 26,487 electors (35% less)

These examples clearly demonstrate that the equality is not for the representatives to represent an equal number of electors.

The refusal of the EBC at the meeting in North Side, the last district meeting, to remove the consideration of joining the two districts of North Side and East End into one SMED in the face of unanimous votes against such a proposal and clear articulations from many present at both meetings against such a proposal is troubling. This is especially so given the fact that the only other meeting at which such a proposal was recommended was West Bay, as no such proposal was mentioned by those attending the meetings in Bodden Town and George Town. Every person present at the East End meeting and the North Side meeting, when asked to vote, voted against the proposal to merge the two districts.

Single member constituencies is not about the equality of electors  per representative as everyone who engages in the election process as a candidate for election can choose to run in North Side with 600 votes or West Bay South with twelve hundred votes.

Single Member Constituencies only introduces, determines and defines responsibility and accountability because each elector has only one representative who can be held accountable to the elector as he has no one to pass the buck to.

The fact that both of EBCs in 2003 and 2010 delivered their mandates without tampering with the Geographical district boundaries is proof positive that it can be done and there is no need for the current ERC to be entertaining proposals to tamper with these geographical district boundaries.

If we review the number of electors per polling station as of April1 2015 presented by this EBC in their “FACT SHEET”, which unfortunately relies on numbers for polling divisions and not from SMC as created by the 2010 EBC. These figures are therefore being used incorrectly to justify redrawing of the electoral boundaries presented by the 2010 EBC.

From these polling stations in the districts, where they are equal to the SMCs recommended by the 2010 EBC, clearly indicate that the number of electors in each EBC are within variances in other countries as demonstrated by the figures used in the comparison of countries above.

The only two polling stations that stand out are Savanah/Newlands in Bodden Town and Prospect in George Town and both of these would most likely be reduced to acceptable variances by the creation, as was done by the 2010 EBC of the fourth SMC in Bodden Town geographical district and the creation of the Prospect and Red Bay SMCs in the George Town geographical district, with no need to move the district boundaries.

This current EBC would be well served as would the country if it adapted the 2010 EBC recommended 18 constituencies within the traditional geographical districts and save the country time and money.

The other issue that this EBC is considering is an increase in the numbers of representatives that make up the Legislature. Here again we find politrics and Machiavellianism and lack of transparence rearing their ugly heads. There has been no national debate to increase the number of representatives in the Legislative Assembly (LA). There is only on reason to increase the numbers of the LA and that is to give the LA the ability to pass a no-confidence motion and remove a government by a two-thirds majority vote without having to rely on at least one member of the executive to vote for the motion. To restore this check and balance on a runaway executive would require increasing the number of representatives to twenty-one with a seven member executive, which I don’t think the country can afford or supports. The other two alternatives is to reduce the size of Cabinet to six or change the two-thirds majority to that of a simple majority.

In my opinion, there is no compelling reason to increase the members of the LA and the concern or reason to consider it as presented by the current EBC is that eighteen members, being an even number presents an opportunity for a hung parliament. This is absurd as we can have a hung parliament with any number including any odd number as we had in 2013, when the PPM won only nine seats and could not form a government and had to form a coalition with two groups, the National Alliance and the C4C. I pray that this country is never reduced to having only two alternatives, the PPM and the UDP/CUP, in any election.

The time is now for SMC and OPOV and we all should do whatever is necessary to complete this process to implement this change before 31 December 2015 in ample time for the 2017 elections.

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Category: Elections, Politics, Viewpoint

Comments (13)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    50,000,000 registered voters in Britain are represented by 650 members. That is one member for each 77,000 voters. By that comparison we could make do with one member working part time. All 18 of our guys work less than part time away. I guess that we could make do with maybe five with well qualified heads of departments advising them.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Forget boundaries. Nationwide election.
    Get rid of the old district system.
    We now have cars, internet and phone, so we don’t need anybody from our district to represent us in the LA.
    Reduce the 18 mla’s to 5. Or cut the salaries with 60%.
    All these people have businesses on the island, most of them are millionaires, so cut this crap.

    • Anonymous says:

      So true. Especially if this representative system continues to affirm that only 18,296 of our residents actually matter – less than a third of the true resident population…with less than 80% of those eligible actually exercising their right.

  3. Anonymous says:

    The issue is clearly lack of understanding by many, and lack of interest also….with that backdrop, the Boundaries Commission has to operate – not easy! To increase the # of returned MLA’s from the already very high 18 is silly at best and unnecessary (also simply increasing more costs). To alter the 6 district boundaries is also unnecessary in the long term – whilst preferable in the short/medium term – and should be ignored as an option.
    Why is it preferable in the short/medium term? Because the clear goal of trying to get similar size (in terms of those voting) SMC’s (18 of them) is not to do anything more than to try to prevent the situation where a governing party could end up with a majority of elected MLA’s, but underpinned by a minority of voters……this does happen in other places too, but if there’s a chance to try to fix it now, why not take it?
    However….who’s to say that in 10/20 yrs time, the populations entitled to vote in North Side/East End will not increase? of course they will….
    there is no panacea in all of this, but there is a better way than we have – and that’s clearly to establish OMOV across 18 subdivisions of the existing geographical districts…..

  4. Anonymous says:

    The US states are more comparable to the sister islands in that they each get two senators no matter how big or little they are, but their numbers of representatives in the house are based directly on population and it change every census. No support for your argument there. Except for the Scottish islands, all of your examples support either combining NS and EE or making them larger with more people. Al of the polls and the referendum indicate most people want equal voting power.

  5. Anonymous says:

    The use of Orkney and Shetlands is a poor example to use, but if you have to use it, then North Side is Orkney and East End in the Shetlands. What you want is separate representation for a two tiny sparsely populated neighbouring areas.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Fair analysis, except, I think you put too much weight to the Commission’s non-statements. Just because they neither confirm nor deny whaty they’re thinking about doesn’t mean that they’re actively thinking about 19 seats (red herring) or combining NS & EE (red mackrel). Remember, the only reason they enither confirm nor deny reducing the number of seats is beacuse its not in their mandate so its already off the table by the politicians.

    By focusing on their not taking options off the table themselves (other than the illogicality of North Side including the South Coast) you’re merely giving credence to those touting the equally silly notion of combining EE & NS. Sometimes the best way to fight a fire is to deny it of oxygen and I think thats what we need to do to that idea. Ignore it and the Commission will come back with the 2010 boundaries adapted a few streets left or right here or there to account for new apartment complexes adding a hundred people here or there.

  7. Psephos says:

    The idea that a jurisdiction such as the Cayman Islands with only about 18000 persons eligible to vote should have even eighteen (very highly paid) members of the Legislative Assembly, let alone an increase in that, is frankly ludicrous.

  8. Panwix says:

    No one should be elected with just over 200 votes period. I got more votes in my university student election.

  9. Anonymous says:

    OHHHHHHHHH Boy, here ya go again.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Comparing Cayman Islands to other countries on districts/boundaries size and population is total rubbish. The countries you use have millions of people. why do you want to change everything Caymanian ?. What these Islands really need is the people to truly understand our constitution, the voter to vote for Cayman and to remove all possible ways for the special interest groups to be able to contribute to elections.
    If our forefathers had followed your example of districts/boundaries by what was happening around us, where do you think we will be today. Many would not be here enjoying our tranquility and freedom.
    Stop trying to change us to what you and special interest groupings want us to be, lets keep the current districts as they are and think, why are we really here, do we enjoy being here or is all about the MONEY. Then we leave.

    • Anonymous says:

      Comments like this crack me up.

      Everyone belongs to an interest group of one kind or another! It’s not that anyone votes against the best interests of the country, it’s that people don’t agree what that is!

      What you’re basically saying is that everything would be fine if only everyone agreed with me!

      Welcome to democracy buddy, “the worst form of government, except for all the others”.

      • Anonymous says:

        You may be cracked up but you totally understand what was said. Stop the twisting and do what is best for All Caymanians as we are the ones that will remain here after the hay day is over.

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