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 seems 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 term, 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.

[To be continued tomorrow with Part 2]

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