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Could Guernsey’s new electoral system be a trailblazer for other places?

Trailblazing Guernsey General Election results announced on the evening of Sunday 11th October .
Guernsey’s unique one constituency election system has enabled electors to vote for ALL their 38 representatives.

This commentary explains what happened and why this new electoral system could be part of a well needed rebooting of UK democracy.

I am a former Independent Guernsey politician who has consistently campaigned to have all the political representatives in Guernsey elected in one Island constituency ( rather than seven electoral Districts, as previously). I truly believe this new way of conducting elections will be looked at with interest for the future of elections in many other places, especially for local Council elections. Elections are something I have great experience of, having undertaken all types of election work, including being a Presiding Officer in a number of UK local councils.
The Guernsey election nominations closed on Friday 4th September with 119 candidates for 38 seats.
Electors had up to 38 votes, enabling them to elect all their politicians, which is unique in the world. The results, after Polling stations closed on 7th October, were announced in the early hours of Friday 9th October, after a long counting session. There was then a call for a recount which was completed by early Sunday evening, 11th October.
So far, this new system has been successful, with just minor teething problems, and the electorate were able to cope with a long list of candidates to choose from.
The result has been a blend of the new and old faces and the electorate seem to have chosen wisely. They will never able to complain about some politicians obtaining senior positions as a result of getting elected on relatively small numbers of votes in their constituencies, because that system has been consigned to the dustbins of history. They can now truly say they can elect every single one of their politicians, rather than just a small number.

All jurisdictions have their own forms of elections, which go through change and enhancement.
This is no different in Guernsey, where I come from, and where I was proud to be an elected political representative for over thirteen years.
I have always been interested in electoral reform, and for some years both when I was elected as what is known as a People’s Deputy and afterwards, I actively campaigned to have all the Guernsey politicians elected in one single Island constituency.

I successfully had a States of Guernsey resolution passed to bring in the legal mechanism for the Island to have referenda. This was ultimately followed by the proposal to have a referendum on various options for Island wide voting and the Election which took place now is the result of the choice the people made.
Although I have not been in the front line of politics in Guernsey for some years, I am impressed that what is known as the Guernsey States, the Island Parliament, have finally brought about this major electoral change.
It truly is an historic occasion and I congratulate the States of Guernsey and their Assembly and Constitution Committee for making this happen.

In Jersey, when the Island was considering electoral changes, the electorate were surprisingly never given a choice of voting for Island wide voting for all politicians. It could be argued that this is the reason why Jersey still have three different types of elected politician. This means that, depending on which part of the Island they live in, the Jersey electorate, can vote for between 8 and 12 of their 49 politicians. A vast difference with the Guernsey system.

The other Crown Dependency, the Isle of Man, has 24 Members of their House of Keys elected in constituencies of two, for a five year terms, which means their electorate can vote for up to two of their politicians. It is inevitable that Guernsey’s new electoral system will be looked at with interest not just by the other two Crown Dependencies, but by the fourteen British Overseas Territories, all of which have their own political systems.

The Guernsey electorate had a good range of candidates to choose from with the election day being on 7th October, but with pre-voting staring a few days before on 3rd October, as well as postal voting.

Indeed about two thirds of the electorate signed up for postal votes, which meant that only a third voted at the various Polling stations. This exceptionally high number of postal voters has to be a British Isles record. It could be the result of having a long list of candidates to choose from, it could be voters being less keen to go to polling stations ( even though Guernsey is officially covid-19 free), or it could be just personal choice. This time, it was possible to be a candidate at the age of 18, and Guernsey has had voting at the age of 16 for some years.

In fact there were 119 candidates for 38 seats, which gave them a one in three chance of being elected. ( One dropped out due to health reasons, but remained on the Ballot paper).
It is more candidates than the 81 candidates for the same number of seats in the 2016 pre-reform Guernsey General Election, so it could be argued that the new system has encouraged more candidate interest.

There is also a basic pay of approximately £38,000, more for those given Committee Head and other responsibilities. Electors had to decide who was worth that sum, but interestingly it does not seem sufficient to attract more youngish professional high achiever workers with families to stand, although some did get elected.

As for voter interest, the turnout was 77.8% which was most impressive.
Generally it is believed that the more candidates, the more voters turn out as they have more choice.
The turnout in 2016 was 71.9% and 71.4% in 2012, so Island wide one constituency voting has increased the public interest.
There was a massive increase in postal voting, with 21,000 electors voting that way out of a total who voted of 24,647 voters. Postal votes were only about 3000 at the previous election.
This has to be a first in political history and could be a future trend post covid-19 fears.

Interestingly, voters used an average of 26 votes out of the 38 they could use.
143 voting slips were rejected because of people voting for too many candidates.
Thus there could be calls to change to voting for all the candidates in order of preference in the future, as this could not happen with this system. A total of 637,770 votes were cast by 24,647 voters ( out of 30,899 eligible ones), as opposed to 21,803 voters in the 2016 Election.

As for voter registration, that has only increased slightly at 31,301, up from 30,320 in 2016 and 29,745 in 2012.
Guernsey voter registration is just 63% of those eligible to be on the electoral roll, so it means that 37% of those eligible to be on the electoral roll were therefore not able to vote. This means that two thirds of those in Guernsey were franchised to vote and a third not. This is not a positive, but a problem in many democratic jurisdictions, and one Guernsey is working on to improve.

If comparisons are made with the UK, there were 3415 candidates in the December 2019 General Election for 650 seats which gave candidates in theory less than a one in five chance of being elected, but in practice not taking into account their “safe” seats scenario and first past the post electoral system. There were 3250 candidates representing 68 political parties and only 206 independent candidates.

In Guernsey there were a total of 40 candidates representing political groupings which would concern some as if they had won all the seats, they would completely control the agenda. Many in Guernsey were concerned that these would act like political parties and effectively “whip” their members into voting in certain ways, but these claims have been denied.
The rest of the candidates- 78- were Independents ( who were made up of 18 current States Members and 5 former States Members).
Of the political groupings:
The Guernsey Partnership of Independents (GPI)- 21 candidates-(made up of 11 present and 4 former States Members and 6 newcomers)
The Guernsey Alliance Party (GAP)- 11 candidates- (all newcomers)
The Guernsey Party (GP)– 8 candidates- (all newcomers)
Standing under a “party” banner was a mixed blessing, as it seemed to help some and hinder other candidates. Guernsey is a place where Independent politics is highly valued, yet 16 “party” grouping candidates were elected, with the remaining 22 seats being won by Independents.
There will now be a battle for who will be Chief Minister and who will run the key government Committees.
The Guernsey Partnership of Independents grouping won 10 seats and the Guernsey Party 6 seats, so they will likely be trying to obtain the support of the Independents in coming contests for key political positions.

There were 28 women and 91 men candidates, so a ratio of approximately one to three.
Although, like many places, Guernsey has had pressure for more female candidates and indeed at the previous election made concerted efforts to bring this about, generally the consensus is that it is merit which should count at the ballot box, not gender. This was reflected with the voting results which saw just 8 women being elected ( as opposed to 12 before).

Eleven sitting Deputies lost their seats, five men and six women, and three major Committee Presidents lost their seats. A further 9 sitting Deputies did not stand, which meant that the new States of Guernsey is made up 18 of the previous Members and 20 newcomers ( one of whom was a previous Deputy)

Guernsey now has all politicians elected by the whole Island to represent the Island, rather than the former District electoral system (which had the big disadvantage of not subjecting them to full Island electorate accountability). In neighbouring Jersey the situation is less straightforward with a current mix of 8 Island wide elected Senators, 29 Deputies for Parishes and Districts, and 12 Parish Connetables. This is roughly the system which Guernsey used to have, but changed some years ago.
There is nowhere else in the world which offers this immense choice to the electors.

It is true that there are some jurisdictions like Sark and Alderney and indeed a number of British Overseas Territories which elect all their politicians on a one constituency basis.
However, their populations are much smaller and inevitably the responsibilities are not as extensive as that of the Guernsey States.

There are larger jurisdictions, such as Fiji, Israel and Mozambique, which have whole country type constituencies, but they are still dissimilar because they have proportional representation and party lists. It is thus exceptionally difficult for Independents to become elected.

There are countries such as the Philippines where a proportion of the politicians are elected on a nationwide basis and some independents do get elected. This is effectively similar to the previous Island wide Conseiller system Guernsey used to have. Indeed, I was the last Island wide Conseiller elected at a by-election in 1998. (There were 12 such Conseillers, considered to be the more senior politicians).

In Guernsey, the new concept of the elector being able to vote for every single representative, is much more democratic and accountable. The system is based on voting for the individual and voting in the individuals best suited to be Members of the States of Guernsey.

This historic move by Guernsey has the potential to change how many world countries view democracy and voting rights.
Guernsey should be proud of this achievement.

Anthony ( Tony) Webber
States of Guernsey Member 1991-2004
Independent Political Commentator
07824 444604

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