Monday, 20 August 2012

Electoral Commission Watch

A light snack at lunchtime with my father, who viewed my electorial submissions with some dismay. He is not in favour of keeping the Constables in the States. It was the old argument - "if they want to stand, let them stand as Deputies". All well and good, but then he went on to say how he thought (from many years experience, going back to the 1950s), that a lot of the Constables didn't do very much anyway - he made an exception for his own Constable, Simon Crowcroft, whom he said did a good job.

That's all very well, but if the Constables are removed from the States, and can stand as Deputies if they want, who are the ones who are most likely to do so? Those from the smaller rural Parishes, with a lesser workload, I imagine.

After all, if Simon Crowcroft, as Constable, stood as Deputy in a States without the Constables, wouldn't someone standing as Deputy against him be likely to say: "I can commit to be your Deputy 100% of my time. If you vote for Constable Crowcroft, you'll have someone who has to devote at least half of his time to Parish matters." In the smaller rural Parishes, however, the Constable could stand and say "My duties as Constable are very light, and I'll have plenty of time to participate in the States". So I think the reverse of what is intended would be the result: the Constables with smaller rural Parishes, some of whom may well be lazy (although I've only head that said of one), would be the ones most likely to get in as Deputies.

Meanwhile, the transcripts of the hearings continues to lag behind - it is still in July, and I wonder if Ian Gorst's will appear on the site before the closing date at the end of August, so that we can examine in detail what he said. It means it is difficult to present any submission to take into account the Chief Minister's point of view and address it. Michael Dun may well catch up with me, in the meantime. He's up to his third submission.

David Castledine's submission has suggested compulsory voting to boost numbers, as in Australia. I think that would be a violation of people's rights, turning the Island close to a police state - unless there is an option to vote for "none of the above".

To save embarrassement from large numbers of spoilt papers as protest, the Australian system counts them as "informal votes", which sounds so much better than "protest votes". In 2010, more than 600,000 Australians lodged informal votes at the federal election after former Labor leader Mark Latham advocated blank ballots in protest against the political system. He had also stated that he did not think it was fair for the government to force citizens to vote if they don't have an opinion or threaten them into voting with a fine.

Some of those votes were blank, but some could have been due to mistakes in numbering in the preferential system. Nevertheless the figure was 5.65% of the ballots cast compared with only 3.95 per cent at the 2007 election.

This was deemed by the Australian Electoral Commission to not break any election laws, despite Chief Justice Barwick's opinion that voters must mark the ballot paper, and Justice Blackburn who thought that it was a violation of the election laws. Of course, if there is a secret ballot, no one can prevent anyone spoiling their paper; conversely, if someone was taken to court for spoiling their ballot paper, it would mean that the ballot was not truly secret, and the whole system of democracy would be exposed as a hoax in that country.

Paul F.D. Letherbarrow's submission, as well as removing Constables, says that "It is essential to re-draw boundaries to create democratic balance. The current system does not allow true representation. In setting boundaries it is important to ensure as best a demographic mix of socioeconomic classes as possible."

That's all very well, but it is far easier to group Parishes, say St Brelade, St Peter and St Ouen to form "Jersey West", and decide the number of deputies to have parity with other large districts, than it is to decide on arbitrary boundaries with all the costs involved. Populations of Parishes are a matter of record. An artificial boundary is not only more prone to gerrymandering - just look at the controversy in the UK - but also means confusion for the electorate. It is difficult enough for the poor devils in St Helier with all the different districts.


Anonymous said...

Michael Dun cannot see the problem with making voting obligatory either. Or at least requiring people to return the voting paper and as you say the opyion to spoil it or simply not mark it should be available. It used to incur a penalty not to register to vote in Jersey so I cannot see much difference and postal voting does not required anyone to miss a word of Coronation Street.
How about the 20,000 people with housing quals who don't live in Jersey? Surely they are entitled to a vote aren't they though of course the obligation could not be imposed upon them.
What might their participation do to the feeble ballot and don't forget that the European Court has already judged that it is illegal to deny most prisoners the vote -even Guernsey allows that - and as for the Constables - well Guernsey (Douzeniers) is ahead of Jersey there too...

Anonymous said...

>>> however, the Constable could stand and say "My duties as Constable are very light, and I'll have plenty of time to participate in the States". <<<

That is fine, but surely it is more important for the electorate to vote in someone who they believe will be effective, and some, like Simon, have been far more effective as a deputy than others with a lot more time available.

Let the Electorate decide, lets have democracy.

Anonymous said...

The problem with retaining the Constables is that it perpetuates the Town/Country divide that has always existed in Jersey politics. This originally represented a divide between landed property and commercial interests. Today the Country parishes are where the comfortable and wealthy live, whilst in the urban areas lives the poorer classes and immigrant communities. Socio-economic differences are manifest in geo-spatial difference.

Failing to equalize the representation on the basis of population leads to the over-representation of Country areas and the interests of the wealthy. That is precisely why there has been no reform. It suits the interests of those that govern. Add to the confusion three categories of States Member and the absence of a “general election” – a moment when all are up for election and the possibility exists for the electorate to remove one group and replace them easily with another.

The electorate cannot structure the States in any meaningful way and they have no policy choice. So many do not vote (60% voter abstention) because they do not believe in what they are being asked to vote for. Who votes least? The working classes and immigrants largely and that is why we have a very right-wing States Assembly protecting the interests of the most wealthy in society.

Answer all that.

The answer is in fact one category of States Member, all elected on the same day, in districts of equal population. Simple democratic stuff that would be comprehensible to anyone living outside Jersey.

What exists currently is simply embarrassing and indefensible on a human rights basis.

All those over-represented Country parishes is in itself a form of gerrymandering.

TonyTheProf said...

"one category of States member, all elected on the same day". Depending on the district size, and first past the post, this gives UK governments with the support of around 30% of the population, and on occasion liberals with 30% of the vote, and around 10 seats. That may be comprehensible to someone living outside Jersey; it seems crazy to me.

Anonymous said...

Super constituencies will make it MORE difficult for average Joe to find a representative to take up his cause.
Anyone who has ever tried to engage the support of "their" deputy (or Constable) will know how invisible they suddenly become.
At least Senators are elected to represent everyone regardless of where they live - thus one excuse is removed.
WE need more deputies in one seat constituencies please (with a clearer obligation to their voters)and Constables confined more or less to their Parishes where they have a duty to represent ALL their parishioners.
It is about "representation" of the public - not getting no hopers or political careerists elected.

Anonymous said...

The issue is not about “representation”; it is about social and class interests being "represented" in the States.

Finding a “representative” to take up one’s cause is always difficult. Senators are notorious for their indifference and likewise Constables. In practice it is only Deputies that will act. Some refuse to do so if one does not live in the District/Parish which elected that Deputy, citing work load as the reason. The burden is greater on St Helier Deputies who must deal with issues relating to poverty, inequality and injustice.

Finding a politician willing to act depends on their attitude to the person and the cause. If it relates to matters of poverty, inequality and injustice, then it is unlikely those politicians on the right will be prepared to listen. Those whom they “represent” are probably the cause of that injustice.

This brings me to the real issue – social and class interest. At present the domination of the right and the wealthy can hide because there is no challenge from below. Opening the political system via reform will allow non elite interests to be expressed – immigrant communities, the poor, the working classes. The “representatives” of those interests are often the ones dismissed as no-hopers and political careerists, under the current system. Indeed the very language is designed to deter. There are plenty of no-hopers and political careerists, but they are not necessarily those that seek social and political change. With greater electoral participation that will become evident. What will help to bring that about is the present Crisis – it will force subordinate groups to reassess their political inaction.

The staunchest defenders of the status quo are those with privileges they seek to protect. Class interests are expressed in coded language. The secret is to be able to read through and understand what is really being said and by whom.

I hope this helps to clarify the real debate about which there is sadly much ignorance.

TonyTheProf said...

My own experience was with a fireworks incident some years ago. I contacted a Senator who had recently been a Deputy in the Parish - only just been elected as Senator. And he didn't want to know - suggested I spoke to the Deputy or Constable. "It's a Parish Matter", he said, passing the buck. So much for an Island Wide mandate!

Anonymous said...

"All Island mandate" is part of the problem. It should be "all Island representation" because Senators have tradionally "opted out" from their representation duties on the mythical basis that they have an "all island" only concer. They need to be brought back down to earth and to confrom reality. The inevitable scrapping of the "all island hustings etc" which will follow from same day elections will be all part of the process. Cut Senators down to size, make their individual voter obigations clear and we might be half way towards democracay but there is NO place for Constables with a vote in the States. They MUST be required to concentrate on Parish matters and representation at that level - but should be allowed to speak (not vote) in the States if they must (bearing in mind that their Parishioners will be paying their salaries)...perhaps some of your followers should actually READ some of Michael Dun's three submissions?

Anonymous said...

My own experience was with a fireworks incident some years ago. I contacted a Senator who had recently been a Deputy in the Parish - only just been elected as Senator. And he didn't want to know - suggested I spoke to the Deputy or Constable. "It's a Parish Matter", he said, passing the buck. So much for an Island Wide mandate!

Well, if you will vote for the idle and the imbecilic, what do you expect?