December 10, 2023

Understanding accountability in OMOV and SMC

As we draw nearer to the Referendum on 18 July 2012, much has been said concerning one man, one vote (“OMOV”) in single-member constituencies (“SMC”) and the attendant equality of voters.  Therefore, by now, everyone with an open mind probably understands what is meant by voter equality. However, it is the issue of accountability that seems somewhat elusive and is being complicated by the anti-OMOV rhetoric of opponents. Accountability should not be confused with equality in the number of registered voters in an SMC. It is about the quality of representation and not the number of voters represented.

Therefore, a representative has an obligation and should be willing to give satisfactory reasons to his or her constituents for any actions he or she may take while serving as their representative. With an SMC one can safely say that a representative has little choice but to be responsive to their constituents simply because there is no one else to blame for their actions or lack thereof.

A case in point is the For Cayman Investment Alliance between the Cayman Islands Government (“CIG”) and Dart Realty. Whether you are in favour of or opposed to the proposed closure of part of the West Bay Road or the movement of the landfill to Bodden Town, it is evident that approximately four thousand residents, primarily those in the three larger multi-member constituencies (“MMC”), believe their interests were ignored by their representatives.  They contend that this only occurred because they account for a minority of the votes in each MMC. In other words, in each MMC, they are merely a voice within the crowd.

Now contrast the above with East End and North Side.  Having only one representative each because of the smaller number of registered voters, they in fact each operate as an SMC where a smaller population enables everyone in those districts to become a name and a face within the community where their vote matters and, consequently, their voice matters. Therefore, when the residents of those districts opposed the East End Seaport in 2011, as it was perceived by residents that it would adversely affect both districts, their elected representatives had no choice but to join the fight. What justifiable reason could they give for abstaining from involvement? Therefore, if the current polling divisions of George Town North, West Bay South and Bodden Town were each an SMC when the CIG and Dart Realty deal was proposed the representative of each SMC would have had no choice but to canvass the views of their constituents as to the perceived pros and cons and then represent accordingly.

Consequently, in an SMC each voter has a single, easily identifiable, district representative who has no opportunity for passing the buck. This encourages a stronger connection between representative and constituent which itself enhances accountability. He or she is therefore more likely to be responsive to his or her constituents than to their party. Furthermore, incumbent politicians in an SMC tend to be difficult for party leaders to remove, which gives them a degree of independence from their party.

While not putting it forward as their policy, opponents of OMOV have recently introduced the concept of a national vote where the first 18 candidates receiving the most votes would be declared the winners. Though not inconsistent with the use of one man, one vote and equality of voters, it would do nothing to improve accountability and responsibility. If it is possible to avoid accountability and responsibility at the district level it would be much easier to do so at a national level. It would also decrease the representativeness of the LA as it would no doubt be populated by candidates from the larger districts leaving smaller districts with no representation. Furthermore, a national vote would do nothing to remedy the perception that introducing OMOV in an SMC will make our politics increasingly parochial. Therefore, a national vote would be counterproductive.

Another objection is that an SMC would be too small and allowing elections to be fixed.  In fact there has been far more controversy regarding fair elections in the Cayman MMC than in any SMC.

Therefore, accountability is inextricably linked to responsibility. Accountability does not mean absolute and total perfection from a representative but it does demand that a representative be willing to provide justifiable reasons for their action or inaction. In an SMC with a smaller number of voters, the explanation is more likely to be forthcoming from the representative since no representative can afford the risk of losing any vote with so few available. As a result, although the voters’ ultimate recourse in an SMC and an MMC is to vote to change their elected representative at the end of an election cycle, the power of the voters in an SMC to compel their elected representative to act is greater.  Thus an SMC gives the voters a better chance to effect change within an election cycle as opposed to once every four years.

Marco Archer



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