Dozens of inmates in Her Majesty’s Prison Northward will not be able to vote in the May general election even though they are qualified to do so under the Cayman Islands 2009 Constitution Order.
According to Northward prison officials, 43 remand prisoners – meaning those who have been arrested and charged, but not convicted and sentenced – are eligible to vote. Another five or six prisoners who have been convicted of lesser offences are also eligible to cast ballots.
However, due to timing and scheduling issues, the prison service was unable to get those men on the electoral register prior to the close of voter registration Tuesday.
“We didn’t register before the deadline, but how were we supposed to do that?” said inmate Murphy Powell, one of the newly-chosen members of the Inmates Council for Northward and Fairbanks women’s prison.
Powell, serving a four-year sentence following conviction in 2011 for wrongfully confining a woman in his pick-up truck, would not be eligible himself to vote in the general election. However, Powell said about six or seven other guys in his cell wing might have taken the opportunity.
The problem is requirements that prospective electors must present a birth certificate to the Elections Office will have precluded most inmates, who are confined 24/7, and may not have access to things like a birth certificate or passport anyway.
“Some of these men didn’t even have birth certificates or have never gotten a Cayman Islands passport,” said prisons acting Deputy Director Aduke Joseph-Caesar. “It’s unfortunate. This would have been a good project for the Inmates Council to work on, helping educate the prisoners on the issues and encouraging them to vote.”
It may come as a surprise to some, but the 2009 Constitution Order in section 91 makes clear the rights of Caymanian prisoners with regard to casting ballots in the general election. Obviously, prisoners who are not Caymanian wouldn’t be able to vote just as free residents who are non-Caymanian can’t vote.
Section 91 states: “A person shall not be entitled to be registered as an elector in any electoral district who ... is serving a sentence of imprisonment (by whatever name called) exceeding 12 months imposed on him or her by a court in any country ...”
Potential Cayman Islands voters are also disqualified if they are convicted of violating Cayman Islands Elections Law.
Otherwise, Caymanians who are at least 18 years old, who are resident in the islands at the voter registration date and who have been resident in the islands for two of the last four years immediately preceding their registration date are all qualified to cast ballots.
Mrs. Joseph-Caesar said the issue actually arose on Friday, 18 January, when Elections Office officials visited Northward to supervise the election ballots held for the Inmates Council. As previously reported in the Caymanian Compass, the Inmates Council is an advisory body chosen from among the prisoners themselves that functions as a sort of association or union on behalf of the inmates.
Some of newly-chosen council members inquired about the ability of prison inmates to vote. After discussions, Mrs. Joseph-Caesar said a deadline of Monday morning, 21 January, was set for registration. However, she said there was no way to get prisoners registered in such a short time.
“Going forward, we will work with the Elections Office to get the inmates who can vote registered,” she said.