Island Wide Voting – Yes or No?

After another heated debate this week, the States have confirmed there will be a referendum on whether to introduce Island wide voting.

Whilst any referendum would never have been 100% binding on any future States, a declaration by the 40 members who would implement it of their intent to make it politically binding was not made.  More importantly, as we have a multi choice on the ballot paper, we have no threshold.

Personally, I think that was wrong.  I voted against Proposition 2 (the multi-choice ballot paper) but, once passed, I voted for the threshold and for it to be politically binding.  Apparently, I was the only Deputy to do so.

I did so simply because I wanted a binary choice but appreciated that, once the multi-choice referendum was agreed upon, the other Propositions were necessary.  We needed a threshold and a pledge that it would be binding to make sense of the outcome of the multi choice question using the Alternative Vote system.

But what do I think on the multi choice options?  Well, I laid an amendment to try to make the question to be asked at the referendum a binary one.  Not because it was too difficult for the electorate to understand – far from it – but because some people would just switch off when faced with the task of getting to grips with what each option meant.

For those interested this is the text of my speech in support of a Yes/No question:

Sir, in my manifesto I said “I believe we should encourage democracy, discourage apathy and introduce the means to do both such as the introduction of Island wide voting.”

I see this amendment as a step in that direction.  In accordance with the February 2016 Resolutions, a referendum should be held with a question requiring a Yes or No answer as I sincerely believe the simpler the question, the greater the participation by the people of Guernsey in the decision making.

I want to stress that this is not questioning the intelligence of the electorate or whether Option A to E are too difficult to understand.  It is about encouraging people to get engaged, to get involved.

Whilst I listened intently to the debate over the Ferbrache/Kuttelwascher Amendment especially to the well-argued reasons put forward by Deputy Fallaize.  Arguments which I believe also support my Amendment.

Sir, I believe that a referendum on this important subject is necessary. A Referendum should get more people engaged in politics – especially younger generation – and it would encourage a healthy interest in our electoral system and the vast number of variations on the Island Wide Voting theme.

I hope it will encourage people to want to register on the electoral Roll and then to vote so that they can help shape the way in which their Island is run.

I believe to achieve this to the max, we need just one question.

To state the obvious, this Amendment asks a question which requires either a yes or a no response.  An approach which has been criticised by some because of a potential “Yes bias” but I would like to remind Members that, unlike the Amendment put forward by Deputies Brouard and Lowe, Proposition 3 appears also to be phrased as a Yes/No question or will Deputy Fallaize be doing a David Cameron and changing the question after the decision is made.

This was also the type of question asked in the Scottish Independence referendum – Indie 1 – and the question was: “Should Scotland be an independent country?” and voters were asked to choose yes or no.  The “No” side won, with 55.3% voting against independence but, more importantly, the turnout was 84.6% which was the highest recorded for an election or referendum in the United Kingdom since the introduction of universal suffrage.

I am not saying we will get such involvement here but I see no reason why we can’t aim high.  Although in the 2016 General Election 72.5% of those eligible to vote did so, I don’t think that will increase but we could aim to get more people on the electoral roll.  If the Deputies in this Assembly Sir were all engaged in the process and encouraged participation by the people of Guernsey, I believe we could increase the numbers interested in politics and voting at elections.  And it isn’t just those interested in Island wide voting but those wishing the electoral system remain as it is.

So why this question and not Proposition 3, or indeed, the Deputies Brouard and Lowe Amendment?  I would like to see the populace be asked to identify with one or other type of voting system ( Island wide voting or the current version) and then, if Island wide voting is the preference, the details should be decided by the States.

Sir, whilst I do not wish to stray into general debate, I would also like it to be clear on what I mean by Island Wide Voting.  It means voting Island Wide.  How can splitting the Island into more than one electoral district be Island Wide?

I did also consider other options such as a gateway question which I now understand was used in the New Zealand referendum.  In 2011, New Zealand voters were asked two questions: to keep their present system or not and, if not, what, of four types, would they choose.  So my first thought was to ask – do you want Island wide voting and, if so, what of the four types do you want?

Obviously, I changed my mind.  After I attended a meeting of the States Assembly Constitution Committee (SACC) earlier this year, I discussed this idea of a gateway option for the referendum but, when arguing my point, I realised I just wanted the Yes/No question.  For those of you who want to know the result of the New Zealand Referendum, 56.17% of voters choose to keep their current system.

It seems to me, Sir, that the main argument against this simple question is that the States have been trying to make a decision themselves for many decades and failed and they want closure.  Well I’m sorry but I agree with Deputy Ferbrache.  I think we should be the ones making the final decision, and make a decision we must if we are directed to do so in a referendum.

Some call me unrealistic or even over optimistic – I disagree.  I believe that, as People’s Deputies, it is our job to make decisions and we should.  I believe that, after a Yes vote, we will choose an Island wide voting system and implement it.

For the reasons argued by Deputy Fallaize, I may not be advocating a legally binding referendum but it will be politically binding.

If this amendment is successful, then it will be the same forty Members, Sir, God willing, that will have to make the decision and I have every confidence we will, once the electorate has told us in a referendum that Island wide voting is what they want.  And that, Sir, will be the difference from previous attempts by the States to bring in Island wide voting.

Another argument against this Yes/No question is that there will be confusion over what type of Island wide voting we should introduce.  It is true no one option will be identified but I am not asking States members to decide now from the options, some three years from implementation.  I believe the referendum debate both here this week and in the coming months will inform us.  If Island wide voting is what the people want, we will not only have the work already done by SACC over the years but also a better knowledge of the advancements in technology available: all of which together will shape our views.

I have to say at this point Sir, I was a little disappointed that the recommendations highlighted in the previous Registrar-General of Electors’ Review of the 2016 General Elections were not expanded upon in SACC’s Policy Letter.  These include an automated electoral roll, anonymous registration on the roll, electronic distribution of manifestos hustings including use of technology and online application for postal votes to name a few. All of which will greatly assist with the implementation of Island wide voting.

There may also be the argument that we will not have sufficient time to agree on the type of Island wide voting if that is our direction.  However, I would point out that the Policy Letter already envisages the need for SACC to return to the States with a further Policy Letter to propose the details if Island wide voting is chosen.

So why do I prefer this binary choice?  Because firstly the question proposed by SACC is disingenuous because it asks for the voter to choose between only two variations of Island wide voting because two of the Options aren’t even Island wide voting and one is the status quo.  Secondly, the argument that a binary choice will disenfranchise people is wholly wrong – actually I believe SACC’s version does just that, some would say, by removing the many variations of Island wide voting from the ballot paper or, as I would say, by unnecessarily complicating the question.

Let’s not beat around the bush – every person sees Island wide voting differently – different elements and different ways of doing it.  Those who want Island wide voting do not agree with each other as we all know that there are more variations of Island wide voting than I’ve had hot dinners.

Talking about hot dinners, Deputy de Sausmarez at the public meeting last week compared choosing what order to place the five Options was akin to choosing a meal from a menu.

I have to say when I choose from a menu I choose what I know I like to eat.  I agree that sometimes my first choice is not available but I do find it very difficult to choose again when it is not.

But Sir, I don’t have to understand what each choice means as I do for the SACC ballot paper.  I don’t have to understand the niceties of preferential voting, what is Instant Runoff Voting or Alternative Vote which is also known as Ranked Choice Voting or Hare (Single-Winner) voting.  The party list system has also been mentioned although whether that is open or closed I’m not sure.

And that, Sir, is just the starter!  What on earth are we to make of the main course!

As to the threshold Sir, the Explanatory Note states that the purpose of this amendment is to ensure one question is asked at the referendum so obviating the need to set a threshold or the effects of not meeting such a threshold.  Sir, I have to point out that removing the need for a threshold is not the reason for the laying of this amendment but just one effect of it.

I thought long and hard about whether to include a threshold and Deputy Meerveld and I decided not to do so.  It is, of course, not as important to consider a threshold with a binary choice but I still think it worth arguing through why we came to that decision.  With a Yes/No there will be two groups of opinion, two camps and I think that, whatever the turnout, provided you have informed the people equally on the choice available, you will have a representative view of the populace.  I also believe we should strive to get as many people to get involved, to understand what an Island wide voting electoral system could be, including how our present system works, through presentations, the media, through drop-ins and especially to the future voters of this Bailiwick.  With one aim, Sir, that they want to be registered on the electoral roll and, once done, vote.

Deputies Tooley, Yerby and Merrett have also laid amendments regarding threshold and I understand that it is their intention to lay their amendments even if this Amendment is successful.  So if threshold is a concern to any Member then I believe there will be an opportunity to introduce one by supporting at least the Tolley/Yerby Amendment.

Another positive to this amendment is in respect to cost.  There will not need to be five Campaign groups nor equivalent officer time supervising their selection.

There are those who say that a binary choice for the UK EU referendum led to a lack of clarity.  That a binary question will lead to endless further debate on whether to have a ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Island wide voting system – or indeed somewhere in between.  I disagree – it is not the debate that has been the problem it is the fact we don’t stick to decisions – let’s trust in ourselves to do so for a change – we’ll have been given a strict timetable by the electorate to do just that.

Let’s have the confidence in ourselves that we can make a decision if that is what we are asked to do.  Because, if it is a vote for Island wide voting, then we will just have to nail our flag to the mast and actually make a decision!

Sir, I believe a binary choice would enable more views to be heard and a clearer direction from the people as to whether they want Island wide voting or not.  I, therefore, ask Members to support this Amendment.

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