Is Jersey in breach of international election standards?
THE presence of Constables in the States and the differences in voter representation in Deputy districts is putting Jersey in breach of international election standards, a review has found.
A group of independent election observers have reported that the general election itself was ‘well executed, competitive and enabled the electorate to cast their votes in secret’.
However, they said the electoral system was ‘overly complicated and cumbersome’ and raised concerns about nomination forms, low voter turnout and the number of Members elected unopposed.
They also said serving Members may have an ‘unfair advantage’ over election rivals, as they remain in office until the new Assembly is sworn in.
Members from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association were invited to the Island to review the election process – including nominations night and the constitution of the States Chamber – against international standards and Jersey law.
The observers have issued a preliminary report, with the full findings, including recommendations for the future, due to be released within the next two months.
The make-up of the States has been a controversial subject for many years, with several electoral commissions and a 2012 referendum failing to deliver any marked change to the constitution of the Assembly.
And despite the observers’ findings about Constables, it is likely to be difficult for that matter to be addressed, as two separate referendums have both led to Islandwide support for the heads of the parishes to remain part of the Assembly.
Philip Paulwell, head of the electoral observers mission, said electoral boundaries should be regularly reviewed to ‘reflect demographic changes’ but that this had not been the case with Deputies’ constituencies.
He added: ‘Due to the huge difference in the size of the Island’s parishes – from 1,752 in St Mary to 33,522 in St Helier – the electoral boundaries set for Constables are challenging the principle of equal suffrage.
‘This is at odds with obligations of the States of Jersey under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.’
He added that the Deputy boundary lines ‘don’t comply with the principle of the equality of the vote’ due to the vast differences in the number of registered voters in rural and urban parishes.
The observers’ report also raised concerns that only 50 per cent of eligible voters in St Helier were registered compared to up to 80 per cent in some of the Island’s rural parishes.
During the election campaign, two Reform Jersey candidates were brought before the Royal Court over discrepancies in their nomination forms, as some of their seconders had endorsed their candidacy before the form’s party declaration section had been completed. St Lawrence candidate Sarah Westwater was allowed to proceed with her candidacy, while Marilyn Carré withdrew from the race to become St Brelade Constable before a court hearing could be held.
Following discussions with candidates and parish officials, Tenia Woolridge, one of the observers, said: ‘The form is poorly designed and open to confusion.’
The report went on to praise the States Greffe for its attempts to keep Islanders informed about the candidates and their efforts to encourage people to sign the electoral register and vote, while the Island’s only political party, Reform Jersey, which fielded 18 candidates, was also praised for its ‘wide range of candidates from different backgrounds’.