'Simply reintroducing Senators and the Island-wide vote will reignite the same old problems'

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By Ted Vibert

THERE is little doubt that the decision by the States of Jersey to radically change the way elections in the Island are conducted proved to be extremely unpopular with the electorate last Wednesday, even though they tried to correct what was has always been a completely undemocratic situation.

Part of the reason for this dissatisfaction was that the Privileges and Procedures Committee, who were responsible for the changes, failed to consistently justify the reasons for introducing them in the first place.

Over the years, we have retained the Island-wide vote for the eight Senators and the parish vote for Deputies and Constables, and this democratic absurdity was allowed to continue until 2022. Once elected, there was no difference between a Senator who received 12,000 votes and a Deputy who recorded 495.

Once in the States, each Member had only one vote – despite the huge difference in the number of people each one represented. How anyone could believe that was democratic has always been totally beyond me.

It was this situation that the Committee attempted to correct by removing the Senators, restricting the parish vote for Constables only and combining the parishes to create nine ‘super constituencies’, with approximately an equal number of voters in each area.

This solved one problem. However, it left two others: the Constables and the fact that most of them had been returned to the States in 2018 without facing an election. In addition, there was a gross distortion of the democratic process where the Constable of St Helier – representing a population of 26,000 and attracting 3,110 votes – has no greater voting power in the States than the Constable of St Mary with 400 votes.

Just consider the results of the 2018 election, which was the last one held when Senators were elected. The results of the Senators’ vote were as follows:

  • Tracy Vallois: 15,518

  • Kristina Moore: 15,291

  • John Le Fondré: 14,214

  • Lyndon Farnham: 12,417

  • Steve Pallett: 12,114

  • Ian Gorst: 12,068

  • Sarah Ferguson: 11,297

  • Sam Mézec: 10,709

Once in the States, each of the Senators had one vote.

Meanwhile, the 28 Deputies elected on a parish basis on that same day in 2018 recorded an average vote of 820 per Member, with the following gaining a seat in the States with these votes:

  • David Johnson: 495

  • Kevin Pamplin: 509

  • Jess Perchard: 528

  • Carina Alves: 605

  • Trevor Pointon: 609

  • Rob Ward: 612

  • Geoff Southern: 628

  • Scott Wickenden: 682

When you put those figures alongside those recorded by the Senators, it underlines the fact that despite being voted in by thousands of people, the Senators still only have just one vote each in the States, the exact same number as the Deputies voted in by hundreds of parishioners.

Looking at it like this, it is easy to see how ridiculous the system is – to the point of absurdity.

It is understandable that many people are bemoaning the loss of the Island-wide vote, the parish system and, with it, the opportunity to vote for a Senator of their choice. However, by bringing them back under the current voting system in the States, the same problems will arise.

Some people are advocating that we ditch the new boundaries and have an Island-wide vote for the 36 Deputy seats, with the Constables having a separate election on a parochial basis.

This idea has several logistical problems. The first is that there will probably be up to 90 candidates on the ballot paper. The second is that most people would probably only know half a dozen of them.

However, there is a system that could be used that would enable us to retain the parish system for Deputies and Constables and keep the Island-wide vote for Senators and make it fair for everyone.

This system is used by the British trade union movement in deciding how many delegates from each union can attend their annual policy-making conference called the Trade Union Congress.

With 48 affiliated unions with a combined membership of 5.5 million and individual memberships of each union ranging from 3.8 million to 280,000, each union can send delegates to the annual conference in proportion to the size of its membership.

The same concept could be used in Jersey to accommodate the enormous difference in the size of electorates, by giving more votes in the States to successful candidates in large constituencies.

It could work like this:

  • Constables with 3,000 votes: 3 votes

  • St Helier Senators with above 15,000 votes: 5 votes

  • Senators with above 14,000: 4 votes

  • Senators with above 13,000: 3 votes

  • Senators with above 10,000: 2 votes

  • Senators with up to 10,000 votes: 1 vote

  • All other Deputies and Constables: 1 vote

It is possible to make elections in Jersey fairer and more meaningful without a great deal of change. It just needs a bit of work. But no doubt nothing will happen. That’s the Jersey way!

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