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Report: Election boundaries do not meet international standards

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THE States are expected to face renewed calls for reform after an independent review concluded that district boundaries for both Constables and Deputies mean Jersey is not meeting international election standards.

Election observers from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association concluded that seat distribution in Jersey is not consistent with equality

May’s General Election was reviewed by a team of observers from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association who found that seat distribution is ‘not consistent with the principle of equality’.

The final report, which was released yesterday, makes a string of recommendations to improve the electoral process in Jersey.

And while the election observers found the 2018 election was ‘well-executed, competitive and enabled the electorate to cast their votes in secret’, the electoral system in the Island is ‘overly complicated and cumbersome’.

Fourteen Members of the new States Assembly were elected unopposed – including 11 of the 12 Constables, which the observers said ‘reduced the competitiveness’ of the vote.

The make-up of the States has been a controversial subject for many years, with several electoral commissions and a 2013 referendum to date failing to deliver any meaningful change to the constitution of the Assembly.

Among the 18 recommendations made in the report were that the States should review the electoral system – including revisiting the findings of a 2013 electoral commission before the referendum – and that the law should be changed so that ‘electoral constituencies be of equal or comparable size’.

In 2014, a further referendum on the position of the Constables in the States was overwhelmingly in favour of the heads of the parishes remaining part of the Assembly.

The election observers said: ‘The method for seat distribution in the States Assembly is not consistent with the principle of the equality of the vote due to significant differences in vote weight from one parish to another for the election of Constables.

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‘This is at odds with the obligations of the States of Jersey under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This deficiency in the current electoral system was also noted by the Electoral Commission in its 2012 final report and addressed in its suggestions for electoral reform.’

The report adds that it is entirely up to Islanders to decide on the role of the Constables but to keep them in the States ‘challenges fundamental principles for democratic participation in a modern society’.

District boundaries should also be regularly reviewed, according to the report. The observers said that St Clement was under-represented and should have one additional Deputy while St Saviour should have one less. They also found that, in terms of number of registered voters, it could be argued that St Helier should have eight Deputies – two less than it currently has – while St Peter and Grouville should have two instead of one.

Philip Paulwell, head of the mission, which released an interim report shortly after the election, said: ‘This first mission to Jersey has identified many positive efforts by election officials to deliver an election which reflected the will of people of Jersey. An election based on trust and respect for rules and procedures.

‘However, there is a need for reform. If elections in Jersey are to be truly genuine, there must be greater equality and fairness, robust procedures and comprehensive legislation to tackle potential abuses and errors.

‘I hope that the authorities in Jersey will give consideration to these recommendations and involve election stakeholders across Jersey.’ 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. The Island’s only political party, Reform Jersey, which fielded 18 candidates at the election, was also praised for its ‘wide range of candidates from different backgrounds’.

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