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Elections Office Turns To Candidate Qualification
GEORGE TOWN, Grand Cayman (CNS) -- With 63 people seeking election in May, officials from the Elections Office will now spend the next two days ensuring that all of them are qualified to stand, as several question have been raised around a small number of would-be politicians, officials have confirmed.
Following changes to the Elections Law after the issues raised before and after the 2013 result, the office now has the power to make full inquiries before Election Day about all of the candidates’ qualifications.
Elections Supervisor Wesley Howell said his staff had begun checking that candidates are qualified; if they are not they will move to the next step, which is to advise the nominated candidates in question. He said that the office had not yet sent any correspondence to any individuals who may not be qualified because the law places the onus on the candidates in the first instance.
“The process changed after the 2013 election and the challenges that came around the Rivers-Hewitt trial,” Howell said. “The law was amended in 2016 to put the onus fully on the candidates, so they make a declaration on the nomination form that they are duly qualified to be nominated. We then check it post-nomination so we don’t check qualifications during the receipt of the documents. But we now have two days to work on that. We will then communicate with any candidates that might fall into that group.”
Howell explained that once they have been informed that there are questions about qualifications and if the candidate decides not to withdraw their application, the next step is to contest that in the Grand Court.
The elections supervisor said that the law had also been amended to allow his office to request documents from criminal records, the immigration department and other government agencies to check the qualifications. He said that a couple of questions have already been raised about some candidates and they will be following up on those “to find out whether or not there is a disqualification criteria”.
In 2013 the Elections Office found itself in the middle of some inequities surrounding candidates. Richard Christian was disqualified on the grounds that he held an American as well as a Caymanian passport, and Kent McTaggart was forced to drop out before nomination as he had not been resident for family medical reasons for the full seven years before election day, as required by the law.
But both issues applied to Tara Rivers, who was not forced to step aside or be disqualified before the election. But a challenge was then mounted by John Hewitt, a West Bay voter and husband of UDP candidate Velma Hewitt. The challenge was unsuccessful after the chief justice found that while Rivers was physically absent from the island during the seven-year time period before election, she was still resident.
He also found that although she was working as a lawyer at a major firm in London, he considered it as educational and career development, interpreting the firm as an educational establishment, as study exempts candidates from the seven-year continuous residency in Cayman before an election.
Rivers also won the argument over the passport, as the court came down on her side that having a US passport because she was born there did not mean she had sworn any allegiance to the American government.
The case caused significant controversy as the findings conflicted with advice from the attorney general, which resulted in the other candidates being forced to bow out or give up their American passports, possibly unnecessarily.
The Hewitts were bankrupted after Rivers’ legal costs were awarded against them, despite the warnings from the chief justice that such a move would have a chilling impact on the democratic right of voters to challenge elected officials and for the courts to settle important questions of ambiguity regarding election qualification.