September 21, 2021

Cayman: 2021 General Election by the domestic observer mission

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NOTE: The following is only a very short publication of the 58 page report.

1 | INTRODUCTION

The 2021 Cayman Islands General Election was credible and legitimate, resulting in an orderly transition of power.

The Cayman Islands has an enviable reputation for the quality of its democracy, as shown by its consistently high voter turnout. More ballots were cast in this election than ever before.

The Elections Office deserves commendation for organising the poll effectively and transparently in the face of multiple challenges, including an early election date close to the Easter weekend and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Domestic Election Observation Mission, (our ‘Observation’) offers the unqualified opinion that the election was held to a very high standard. Having followed the steps set out in this Report, we have arrived at several observations and recommendations to improve Cayman’s electoral process in the spirit of its democratic traditions.

With that understood, we observed a general appetite for improvement in several aspects of political life. We hope our recommendations acknowledge the issues raised with us during the election and present realistic options for Cayman’s electoral future.

To our knowledge, this was the first time that a team of domestic election observers conducted such a thorough and comprehensive observation mission. Our ‘nine-plus-two’ team of volunteers was a visible presence in the final weeks of the campaign and on Polling Day.

We also interviewed or tried to contact as many candidates and organisations as we could in the weeks following the election.

Each official member of our team, Hadleigh Roberts, Sidney Ebanks, Mark Hilton, Margott Lares-Alfonzo, Colford Scott, Olivaire Watler, Andrea Williams, Ian Whan Tong and Trecate Yong made a unique contribution to our Observation, offering their valuable skills, knowledge and, above all, volunteer time.

Though not present during polling, our two stand-by and reserve members, Yves Martel and Bryan Plug, made an equally valuable contribution. Their research, advice and input in all our meetings made a material difference to the quality of this Report.

We hope our efforts strengthen confidence in Cayman’s electoral system and our recommendations prove useful.

2 | OUR OBSERVATION

On 15 February 2021, the Governor issued the Election Writs, setting in motion the legal timeline for the election to take place on 14 April 2021.

With the COVID-19 pandemic raging on in most parts of the world, it became increasingly difficult to arrange the usual international election observation mission. The lack of a significant international presence created the need for an expanded and more comprehensive domestic election observation mission.

On 29 March 2021, the Governor invited nine volunteers to sign a Terms of Reference agreement confirming their appointment to serve as election observers. Two additional volunteers became reserve and stand-by observers.

Observers swore an oath of secrecy not to reveal information about any elector’s vote should this be revealed accidentally, in line with local laws and regulations applied to all election officials.

Given the appointment date, observers were unable to witness a number of significant deadlines and events ahead of polling day and were able to catch only the last fortnight of the election campaign.

We advise that appointment of observers takes place in the two-week window between the Proclamation of Elections and Nomination Day.

This would enable observers to assess the fairness and accessibility of the nominations process, the printing and proofing of ballots, the first issuance of postal ballots and the first rounds of mobile polling. An earlier appointment date would have also enabled observers to assess the election campaign in more detail and establish important information networks.

It may be beneficial for future Observation Missions to be given office space located outside the Government Administration Building. Although our access to the office was unhindered and unmonitored by CIG (except for security and facilities management), we found it cumbersome to invite interviewees there for confidential discussions.

We understand that the Governor’s Office received 47 applications. A Selection Committee chaired by Deputy Governor Franz Manderson comprised James M. Ryan, former chief secretary; Sophia Harris, chair of the Anti-Corruption Commission; Rosie Whittaker-Myles, former chair of the Standards in Public Life Commission and Jennifer Ahearn, strategic operations officer in the Office of the Deputy Governor.

In line with past practices, the Selection Committee decided to exclude public servants to protect the political impartiality of the public administration.

The observers were a mix of Caymanians, Permanent Residents and others. This equipped our Observation with a range of experience in election observation, knowledge of elections in the Cayman Islands and familiarity with Cayman’s political culture and history. Being known and knowing others in the community meant that political competitors were comfortable speaking to us confidentially and candidly.

The eight other observers unanimously elected Hadleigh Roberts to act as chair and spokesperson based on his prior experience as an observer in many elections in several European countries. He coordinated the Observation, was the primary contact point for the Governor’s Office and Elections Office and coordinated our Observation and Report.

We agreed that individual observers would refrain from undertaking any observation work in the electoral district in which they resided. We were concerned that observers may be personally familiar with their local candidates given the size of the districts. To avoid confusion, we have used the term ‘district’ because this is used in the Elections Act. A district is known in other countries as a constituency or riding.

Observers voting in the election voted on the relevant mobile polling day. They did not behave as observers while voting and removed all observer identification. This was to avoid undermining elector confidence if an observer were seen as voting.

14 | SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDATIONS

1 Elections Officials should check the immediate vicinity around a mobile polling stations regularly and cover up campaign materials temporarily where appropriate.

2 Review the typical signage for mobile polling stations and consider placing guidance arrows or a volunteer at a logical place to guide an arriving elector. Additional lighting should be procured in the locations noted or alternative locations sought next time.

3 Any elector registered at a physical address on Little Cayman should be pre-approved and encouraged to vote on a mobile polling day.

4 The Elections Office should explore options to reduce waiting times at polling stations.

5 Deputy Returning Officers should be present at all districts to speed up the counting process.

6 Electors should not be allocated to a polling station alphabetically by surname and the Elections Office should consider alternatives, taking into account that results are analysed per box. Polling booths should not be numbered.

7 Police presence on polling days should be minimised within the exclusion zone and no police officer should be permitted to enter a polling station (room or tent) unless it is at the request of the Presiding Officer or in an emergency. An Elections Office official should be tasked with ‘shooing away’ overeager candidates.

8 Cayman should explore ways to extend the franchise including easing the burden of its residency requirements for candidates and electors.

9 Registering to vote, updating elector information and requesting mobile polling should be included in the general scheme of e- government services.

10 Ballots should not be serially numbered and an elector’s registration number should not be recorded on any part of the ballot or counterfoil.

11 All elections processes should be brought into compliance with the Data Protection Principles and the Data Protection Act.

12 A Political Ombudsman should be created to consider Observation recommendations, develop politically realistic guidelines where legislation is the inappropriate tool, and deal with elections disputes and complaints.

13 Candidates should not be allowed within the polling station exclusion zone unless it is to cast their own ballot. Once they have cast their ballot, the candidate should leave the area promptly.

14 Candidates, relieved of their role as ‘greeters’ at polling locations, should have a nominated person who acts as their official representative with the full authority of the candidate themselves.

15 Campaigns need greater freedom appointing political agents and the condition that agents should be registered in that district should be abolished.

16 We recommend a clear framework that sets out the rights, responsibilities and accreditation of candidates and their representatives on polling days. It may be worthwhile to establish similar provisions for international and domestic observers.

17 The s.94 prohibition on campaigning should be reviewed and revised, ideally administered by a potential Political Ombudsman rather than under the scope of elections offences.

18 There should be a better framework for the development and governance of political parties that promotes political stability and improves democratic accountability.

19 Political financing needs comprehensive reform, including a register of political donations made and received and a framework for lobbying and lobbyists.

20 The rules governing the Member’s Register of Interests should be more robust, published online and continually updated between elections.

21 All nominated candidates should submit detailed accounts of their political income and expenditure, closing the loophole on the lack of penalties for non-submission from unsuccessful candidates.

22 There is further scope to clarify and improve the rules on campaigning and broadcasting imposed by ss.94 and 76. Editorial news reporting should be permitted and journalists should be able to interview candidates on Polling Day without interference or restriction outside of the Polling Station exclusion zone.

23 As part of the wider framework for transparent political financing, any payments a campaign makes to media organisations should be disclosed by the candidate in their returns. Media organisations should publicly disclose any payment made to them by or on behalf of political campaigns.

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