Realities & Rhetoric of One Man, One Vote
The decision to change a country’s voting system has far reaching political consequences that should not be taken lightly; and when we as citizens are asked to make critical decisions like this, it is important to make our choices based on facts, rather than emotion. The one man, one vote (OMOV) has become an emotive issue that is dividing our community.
Lines have been drawn on the basis of political orientation, and as one would expect in any political debate there are two sides – those that are for and those that are against. But behind all of the emotion and political rhetoric, what are the facts?
According to the advocates of OMOV/single-member constituencies, this system will guarantee better “equality, accountability and fairness” and it will introduce “a modern approach to political organization and voting systems to the Cayman Islands”.
These are noble objectives for any country; however, if we accept these ideals as the reason to change our electoral system, then what we are clearly saying is that the current system of voting that we have used to elect successive governments for the past 40 years was flawed, unequal, and unfair.
But is that really the case? Are we saying that the electoral system that elected such stalwarts and statesmen as Mr Cradock, Mr Jim Bodden, Miss Annie, Mr Benson and Captain Mabry is useless and outdated and now needs to be replaced? Are we saying that our current electoral system which required these members to cooperate and get along for the good of the country -- whichever side they were on -- is no longer useful and relevant to modern-day Cayman? If we vote 'yes' to the upcoming referendum, then we are clearly saying 'yes' to all of these questions.
While our current electoral system is not without its share of flaws, it can be amended and improved, but the current referendum does not provide us with that option. In fact, there are several different types of electoral systems that we could consider. Before we start tampering with something as important our electoral system, perhaps we should all read and gather our information from objective non-partisan sources, rather than acting on the basis of who shouts the loudest or who we like and don’t like.
Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “The real safeguard of democracy is education.” Therefore we should educate ourselves before voting on the referendum. There are several good books and research papers that can help guide us to make the right decision.
One such book is Behind the Ballot Box, A Citizen’s Guide to Voting Systems by Douglas J. Amy, (Praeger Publishing, 2000). This book is a useful guide for anyone who wants to learn more about voting systems and their political implications. It gives readers all the information and analytical tools they need to make an intelligent choice among voting systems. It provides a set of political criteria that can be used to judge voting systems. It gives detailed descriptions of all the common voting systems used in the United States and other Western democracies and provides an analysis of the various political advantages and disadvantages associated with each type of system. And most of all, it doesn’t have a viewpoint that is slanted by the PPM, UDP, CNS, Rooster or the OMOV proponents.
On the issue of single-member constituency (SMC), the author, Douglas J. Amy, agrees that SMC is good at ensuring that all local geographical areas have a voice in the legislature. On the other hand he also cautions that it tends to reinforce the two-party system, produce manufactured majorities, encourage gerrymandering, discourage voter turnout, create high levels of wasted votes, and deny fair representation to third parties, racial minorities and women.
If academics like Amy can make these kind statements about the OMOV system, is this really a more “modern approach to political organization and voting"? Would this really represent an improvement in our democracy? How would independent candidates get elected in such a system?
Let’s now examine how the OMOV system would guarantee equality and fairness.
With the OMOV system the winners need not collect a majority of the votes, only more votes than their opponents. So, if candidate A receives 40% of the vote, candidate B receives 35%, and candidate C gets 25% then candidate A wins the seat. But this would mean that 55% of the electorate would not be represented by the candidate of their choice. How can this be considered “fair and equal?”
According to thefreedictionary.com, one man, one vote is a principle that was enunciated by the US Supreme Court in (Reynolds v. Sims,1964) which stated that all citizens, regardless of where they reside in a state, were entitled to equal legislative representation. The Supreme Court ruled that a state's apportionment plan for seats in both houses of a “bicameral state legislature” must allocate seats on a population basis so that the voting power of each voter be as equal as possible to that of any other voter.
Under our current electoral system we already have equal legislative representation – on the basis of district size; however, we do not yet have a bicameral legislature. Therefore, if the OMOV referendum is successful in July, will the next step be a move to make changes to our current Constitution to introduce a bicameral legislature? Is this the real hidden agenda behind the OMOV movement or is it just an unexpected outcome?
Whenever we make our decisions based on the facts it will reduce the likelihood of unexpected outcomes. So here are some more facts on the origins of the OMOV:
A quick look at Wikipedia reveals that “One Man, One Vote” is a slogan that has been used in many parts of the world in campaigns for “universal suffrage” and it is particularly prevalent in “less developed countries” during the “period of decolonisation and the struggles for national sovereignty”.
Is this the hidden political agenda behind the OMOV movement -- to lead us on a fight for national sovereignty and towards decolonisation? While I do not believe that many of the supporters of the OMOV are necessarily advocates of decolonisation, there is a possibility that their enthusiasm is being manipulated by some who seek to achieve a higher agenda. We are opening a Pandora's Box, and I am not sure that enough research has yet been done to fully understand the pros and cons of this issue.
While no system is perfect, we certainly know what we have, but we sure don’t know what the heck we’re getting into!
The comments posted do not necessarily reflect the views of CNS or any individual staff member. All comments are posted subject to approval by CNS. Read more
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