Guernsey is committed to islandwide voting – in just 18 months’ time…

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HERE’S a thought for you. What happens if Guernsey makes a success of its decision to elect all its 38 States Members in a single day on an islandwide basis? Granted, it’s quite a leap to think that we might, because the obstacles are pretty formidable but, a bit like Brexit meaning Brexit, the island is committed to it.

Cynics believe that the recent referendum – the first in island history – was an attempt to prevent islandwide voting from getting a look in.

Counter-intuitive I know, but who thought having a multiple-choice referendum on a yes-no issue was a good idea? Wait a minute, didn’t Jersey try an option-heavy plebiscite like that a few years ago?

Ah, yes. And we all saw what a fudge that resulted in, so you too have experience of ‘wreckerenda’. And, just like Guernsey, there are a significant number of Jersey folk who really do want to have a say in electing all their States Members, irrespective of parish or district.

There was never doubt in my mind that most in Guernsey wanted full islandwide voting – irrespective of any pitfalls or unintended consequences it might bring.

Any reservations there may have been about getting there were confined to the process itself. Despite that, a clear majority have gone for IWV – and the island now has to get it to work in just 18 months’ time.

Currently, government effectively outsources elections to the parishes. This means the douzaines, in their own time and with their own volunteers, organise and staff polling stations from 8 am until 8 pm and then immediately count the results, before notifying the Bailiff of the outcome.

That can take anywhere up to 9 pm or until well past midnight depending on the size of the district, the number of votes cast and the need for any informal recounts where results look sufficiently close that they might subsequently be challenged by candidates.

In short, it’s a lump of work made possible simply because the parish electoral district on which it’s based is small enough to deal with. On an islandwide basis, however…

No one has spoken to the parishes about the implications, so whether they’ll do it in June 2020 remains conjecture. So too is the process to be adopted by the States.

That has yet to be worked out by something called SACC (the States Assembly and Constitution Committee) then approved by the States, followed by the necessary underpinning legislation put in place. The Ministry of Justice has already expressed reservations about whether a ballot paper with around 100 candidates for 38 places can be made fair and inclusive.

That, of course, is before anyone challenges whatever it is the relevant States committee eventually proposes and then has drafted into law, hopefully, for ratification.

Unlike Jersey, Guernsey has nothing in place regarding political parties. They’re not recognised, currently do not exist, and there’s no requirement to register one.

Come to that, what is a party? We have some recently formed political groupings (and, this week, the Islanders Association [without the apostrophe] tearing itself apart) while something called has popped up on Twitter.

‘For those interested in Conservatism in Guernsey and forming a party based on Conservative values please express interest by following this account…’ it advises us.

Like Jersey, Guernsey has regulations governing what candidates can spend on their election campaign. But it doesn’t apply to parties or associations or people down the pub who’d like to get Wossisname in because he’s a good bloke (other gender equivalents are available) and will shake the bloney States up a bit, eh?

But what’s a fair amount to spend to get elected as opposed to buying your way in? Multiply up the current district limits to be islandwide and that’s £16,000. Who has that sort of money? It’s Guernsey for heaven’s sake. We can’t even afford a proper runway.

Nevertheless, in these inclusive, anti-discriminatory days, States support looks a given to ensure all candidates achieve the mythical level playing field and aren’t excluded from standing because they’re on their uppers.

Call that a subsidy of around £500,000 upwards if the prospect of islandwide attracts more candidates than the usual 90 or so we’re used to attracting.

You’ll have gathered from this that there are a few hurdles to achieving the sunlit uplands of full democracy as advanced by supporters of islandwide – not least the president of SACC resigning this week because his heart’s not in the task.

But if we do pull it off, what might that lead to in Jersey? Your need for electoral reform is arguably much stronger than Guernsey’s, certainly if you have any regard for the Electoral Commission’s considered report of a few years ago.

Its guiding principles included that the Jersey electoral system should be simple, fair, and easy to understand; and that all members of the States ‘should recognise that their main role in the Chamber is as a member of the Island’s “national” parliament and that their task is to consider draft legislation and policies that affect the whole Island.’

I read that last concept as asking, what the hell are the Constables still doing there? And plenty of others feel that way as well.

So just like you looking to topple the Bailiff from his dual role will have implications for Guernsey, so too will any success we have in islandwide voting have an impact here.

That’s the trouble with reform. Get it right and it tends to become contagious.

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