(CMR) Campaign financing, voter inequality, and electoral boundaries are among several issues discussed in a report by international observers of the Cayman Islands 2021 General Election.
At the invitation of the Governor of the Cayman Islands, His Excellency Martyn Roper OBE, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association British Islands and Mediterranean Region (CPA BIMR) conducted a virtual Election Expert Mission to the Cayman Islands General Elections in April.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team of experts conducted the Mission virtually, carrying out research online and undertaking interviews with a wide range of stakeholders using digital meeting platforms.
In the official report, which is now publicly available, the Election Expert Mission concludes that the legal framework for elections in the Cayman Islands provides an adequate basis for conducting democratic elections. The report also commends the Elections Office for its efforts in the lead-up to Election Day as it provided extensive training for all polling staff, undertook a campaign of voter education, and prepared educational materials for staff and for candidates and party agents.
However, several areas for improvement remain. The report notes fifteen recommendations to improve elections going forward. These address several issues, including an absence of equality in the weight of the vote, due to severe differences between the number of registered voters in each electoral district.
According to the report, although the Constitution provides that there should be, as far as possible, equality between the number of registered voters in each electoral district, there were severe differences. The report indicated that for the 2021 election, a registered voter in the East End district had more than double the weight of a registered voter in Bodden Town East.
CPA BIMR recommended that the Electoral Boundary Commission conduct a delimitation exercise and publish a report by 2023, carefully scrutinizing how international standards and best practices can be met to further narrow the scope of deviation from the equality of the vote. Deviations from the norm should ideally not be more than 10 percent and, in exceptional circumstances, 15 percent.
It was also recommended that there be an inclusive process of electoral reform, including possible reform
of legislation on referendums, should be carried out, in which all stakeholders are encouraged to make every reasonable effort to build broad consensus over the reform, to be concluded at least one year ahead of the next election.
The report also highlighted that there were certain categories of persons who are disenfranchised of the right to vote and the right to stand in elections. It states that some of these restrictions do not align with international standards and good practices, particularly with regards to persons with disabilities and prisoners sentenced to
imprisonment for 12 months or more.
It is recommended that to allow for broader electoral participation on an equal basis, the rights of candidates should be reviewed in line with international standards and good practices. This should include abolishing any discrimination against persons with disabilities. It is also recommended that the blanket ban on the right to stand for all prisoners sentenced to imprisonment exceeding 12 months ought to be reviewed and/or include a distinction between the different types of offenses.
The international observers also recommended that measures aimed at mainstreaming awareness about the rights of persons with disabilities and supporting their independent, informed voting and decision-making should be prioritized, and remaining barriers to effective electoral participation of persons with disabilities should be removed, including restrictions on the right to vote and the right to stand based on mental/intellectual disability, lack of accessible voter materials, and mandatory assistance by the presiding officer.
The report states that funding of election campaigns is opaque. Campaign finance is only regulated during
the period from Nomination Day until Election Day, even though interlocutors shared that campaigning started months before Nomination Day. There are limited requirements for candidates to submit details of their campaign expenditure and of donations received.
Recommendations are made for consideration to be given to extending the regulated campaign finance period. The report also suggested that full online transparency of campaign donations and expenditure above a de minimis limit could be introduced, including in-kind donations and expenditure attributed to third parties.
For further transparency, the report also suggests that a qualified person could audit all campaign finance declarations upon receipt by the Elections Supervisor. The Mission recommends that the Elections Ordinance could be amended to introduce deterrent penalties for those who fail to make the required declarations or where declarations are found to be incomplete or inaccurate.
The international observers also indicate that there is a lack of clarity on who is responsible for dealing with electoral complaints and appeals. As a result, it is recommended that a clear and coherent complaints and appeals procedures should be introduced, in line with international good practices. Effective time limitations for complaints, appeals, and petitions could be considered, the report states.
One of the observers' recommendations is that an Independent Electoral Commission should be established to supervise the electoral process, to ensure it is conducted fairly and impartially, to provide expert advice on all aspects of electoral law reform, and to consider electoral complaints.