The referendum held on 18 July might be considered akin to Round 1 of a heavyweight championship boxing match.
Blows were landed, points were won and lost but in the end both sides were still standing and apparently ready for more.
Premier McKeeva Bush, the United Democratic Party government and supporters of the Cayman Islands’ current multi-member voting districts claimed victory. The referendum question: “Do you support an electoral system of single-member constituencies with each elector being entitled to cast only one vote?” did not receive the required number of votes – 7,582 – to become legally binding on the government.
Final result: 8,677 people voted. Some 5,631 said “yes”, and 3,001 said “no”. Another forty-five ballots were not counted because they were not clearly marked. Nearly 43 per cent of the Cayman Islands voting public – 6,484 people –did not cast ballots in the referendum. “The majority of people of the Cayman Islands voted ‘no’ by choosing to stay away in large numbers, rather than coming out to vote ‘no’,” Bush said late in the evening of 18 July. “The results clearly show that a majority of the people across the country rejected a change in the current system to single-member constituencies.”
The supporters of the ‘one man, one vote’ system don’t look at it that way.
“The vast majority of people who voted in the referendum do support single-member constituencies and the adoption of the principle of ‘one person, one vote’,” said Opposition Leader Alden McLaughlin says. “That is something that, while the government is under no obligation to implement, I don’t think it’s something that can be ignored, and just say ‘well forget it’.”
The way the numbers break down, those who actually bothered to turn out supported the ‘one man, one vote’ concept nearly two-to-one over those who opposed it. Every voting district save one, Premier Bush’s home district of West Bay, approved the referendum by a large majority. The supporters were foiled mainly because voter turnout was not high enough to reach the 50 per cent plus one vote that was required.
In a broadcast address made the day after the referendum, Bush acknowledged the results of the vote.
“Winston Churchill once said, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.
“We know that this country has other, more urgent and important national issues than single member constituencies,” Bush said. “However, I’m a representative and leader that looks at all the angles of how people feel and what affects the lives of my people.
“The total number of votes of the proposers of one man one vote is just about the same number of votes that the top opposition members received in the general election of 2009. In my book that is an indication of people’s desires. While I don’t believe that single member constituencies are good for the country, I want to continue to work for equality and a system that fair.”
During the very same address, Premier Bush rolled out a proposal of his own that could actually change Cayman’s voting system from its current form.
Bush said he would form a bipartisan group to study the merits and demerits of an alternative voting system.
The system, as described by Bush, would create eight electoral districts on Grand Cayman – all with roughly the same number of votes and returning two members each to the Legislative Assembly. Under Bush’s proposal the ninth voting district - Cayman Brac and Little Cayman - would maintain the same voting system; two members elected with each registered voter selecting two people to serve in the Legislative Assembly.
“This would be in line with the principles of equality and fairness for voters in Grand Cayman as advocated by the one man, one vote committee but without the dangerous elements of single-member constituencies,” Bush said.
The premier conceded that this plan would be just one way to address any “perceived absence of equality”.
Right now, Grand Cayman has five voting districts, which – as of the 2013 general elections – will return anywhere from six to one MLAs to the assembly. One of the main arguments against the current system made by ‘one man, one vote’ proponents was that the current system – as of the May 2013 elections – would allow voters in George Town to have six votes at the ballot box, while residents of smaller districts, East End and North Side
“Let us continue the dialogue on improving our electoral system to make it one that our descendants will be proud of and thankful for,” Bush said.
Opposition Leader McLaughlin says the message from the 18 July vote was clear.
“The majority of people who are interested in the issued would prefer a system of single-member constituencies with one man, one vote,” he says.
The Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce, which had supported ‘one man, one vote’ with single-member constituencies stated that more work needed to be done to “educate the people about the advantages of the new voting system”.
“It is now time for the Islands’ [residents] to set aside their differences on the issue,” the Chamber statement read.
‘One man’ group pleased
The grassroots group that began the petition drive for a referendum on the single member constituencies issue did not respond by press time for comments on Premier Bush’s proposal.
However, the ‘one man, one vote’ group agreed that public debate over the issue was far from over.
“As we have witnessed with this government, when the results do not accord with their agenda they resort to spin and confusion of the facts,” the group wrote in a statement issued on 20 July. “That is not democracy and therefore, of necessity, the public debate will continue.”
The group did not state whether it would consider any legal challenges to the referendum or what might happen with the voter petition, which – according to some accounts – had received more than 5,000 signatures; nearly as many as the number of people who voted in the 18 July referendum.
The ‘one man, one vote’ group indicated that simply assuming those who did not turn out for the referendum vote were against the concept was erroneous.
“[This is] not supported by any factual evidence,” the statement released by the group read.
“The people can claim a strong victory,” the group stated.
By the numbers
Despite not reaching the set figure of 50 per cent plus one vote or 7,582 registered voters, one man, one vote supporters may be justified in feeling that they actually carried the day on 18 July.
In George Town, 2,360 “yes” votes were recorded compared to 993 “no” votes: 70 per cent in favour of the referendum question.
In East End, 257 voters said “yes” and 79 said “no”; a 76 per cent majority in favour of the referendum.
In North Side, 335 voters said “yes” and 56 said “no” to the referendum; nearly an 86 per cent majority in favour.
In Cayman Brac, the vote was closer; 256 voters said “yes” and 203 voted “no”; a 56 per cent majority in favour of one man, one vote.
Results for West Bay had voters there narrowly rejecting the referendum question with 1,027 “yes” votes to 1,053 “no” votes. The ‘yes’ votes only got 49 per cent in West Bay.
In Bodden Town, there were 1,396 “yes” votes and 617 “no” votes; a 69 per cent majority for the ‘one man’ supporters.
However, looking at the numbers another way - in the context of what the referendum requirement of 50 per cent plus one of all registered voters - only one voting district in the Cayman Islands, North Side met the tally.
North Side had 61 per cent of all its registered voters – 335 “yes” votes out of 551 eligible to cast ballots – say “yes” to the “one man, one vote” referendum.
Cayman’s other already existing single-member voting district, East End, got 44 per cent of all its registered voters to support the referendum. Some 257 of 588 registered voters in East End backed “one man, one vote”/single-member districts.
None of the other four Cayman Islands voting districts, all of which are multimember constituencies with between two and four elected representatives, got more than 40 per cent of their total registered voters to choose “yes” in the referendum.
George Town had 40 per cent registered voters select “yes”, meaning 2,360 people in Cayman’s largest voting district supported “one man, one vote”.
Similarly, Bodden Town had a 40 per cent “yes” tally among all registered voters with 1,396 supporting the referendum.
West Bay, the political stronghold of Premier McKeeva Bush, saw just 28 per cent of its registered voters say “yes” during Wednesday’s vote; just more than 1,000 people.
Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, the home of Deputy Premier Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, had an even lower 27 per cent of all registered voters say “yes” – 256 out of 959 people.