Tuesday, 3 July 2012

My submission to the Electoral Commission.

Below I have attached my submission to the Electoral Commission.

Shortly there will be an announcement about a public meeting myself and some comrades are organising at the Town Hall with a panel of speakers and opportunity for the public to speak on electoral reform, where we will try to galvanise support and encourage the public to write in to the commission essentially recommending the commission find a solution that is -
  1. Simple and user friendly,
  2. Each constituency has the same population,
  3. Each voter as the same number of votes.

In the meantime, please read my submission and give me your thoughts on it. If anyone wants to write to the commission, but hasn't done this sort of thing before and wants a bit of help, please get in touch with me. I'll be happy to help.

My submission is pretty excessively long, and should by no means be regarded as a template (though maybe my conclusion section could be a good guideline for those that agree and want to add their voice to it?).


Dear Chairman and members of the Electoral Commission,

Following my request to the Electoral Commission for information regarding to the workload of each category of member (which was denied) I have endeavoured to produce a final submission without such important information regardless.

About me –

I thought it might be useful to briefly explain who I am so the commission understands where I am coming from.

I am currently in between my 3rd and 4th year of a law degree combined with the Legal Practice Course studying at the University of Westminster in London. I am Jersey born and raised and have been involved in both local and national politics since I was 16 years old.

In 2011 I represented Jersey at the Commonwealth Youth Parliament where I got to play the role of an MP with others from around the Commonwealth, debate legislation and take part in committees. This gave me an opportunity to speak with likeminded people from around the world and UK politicians about politics. Since then I have been involved in campaigning for the Labour Party in London and have been writing a blog focused mostly on Jersey politics.

Preamble –

The word Democracy itself comes from the Greek words “demos” and “kratos” which mean “people” and “power”, respectively. Taking an etymological approach to the word democracy helps us arrive at an excellent definition that should be in the back of our minds when making decisions on how Jersey is run. The question we should always ask is “do the people have power?” And if any part of our electoral system produces a negative answer to this question, it has to be changed and reworked to empower the people.

When creating an electoral system fit for a 21st Century democracy in Jersey, it is also not always necessary to force links with the past systems for the sake of continuity and tradition if it detracts from the overall point of empowering the people of Jersey. The commission should thus effectively be starting with a blank canvas ready to form a States Assembly from scratch, only maintaining links with previous aspects if they are able to enhance the new system without distorting its context. Things should be kept for their merits, not for tradition.

So I shall seek to recommend a system that is in my opinion most democratic. For Jersey’s democratic system to be fit for purpose, at all costs it must be simple, fair and equal. These three criteria will make sure that as many people as possible are enthused to take part in our democracy as they will all be able to understand it and see the value in their taking part.

The current systems worst failing is that it produces abstention rates of up to 60% (75% in some constituencies) when our sister island Guernsey managed to get 70% turnout in their last election. Gibraltar (a jurisdiction that I believe the commission would do well to seek advice from) managed to get an 81.4% turn out at their last election. They did this because they have a system that makes their voters believe that their voice is heard and needed to make a difference. I do not believe that there is a single reason that Jersey could not achieve and even surpass this, so that we could be the jurisdiction that others envied.

As for getting a better calibre of States Member, that is up to the public to express their judgement at election time, but the process must be facilitated so as to make the result a genuine reflection of their views. I have read submissions including suggestions that candidates with criminal records should be banned from standing. I hope the commission will disregard such suggestions as they are undemocratic and unnecessary. If the people want someone with a criminal record to represent them, they should not be arbitrarily denied that opportunity.

Finally I note that it is not in the terms of reference of the Commission to examine the makeup of the executive or comment on the internal procedures of the States, which I believe is appropriate, so I shall not seek to comment on such things. Since the makeup of the States is a completely separate issue to the makeup of the executive, I would hope that the commission recommends that all of its recommendations are simply “rubber stamped” by the States, rather than cherry picked, before being put to referendum. After all, it should be the people whose opinions matter, not the States. The States cannot be allowed to cut up the proposals and it is important that the commission makes this clear to them. Perhaps if the same attitude had been adopted at the time of the Clothier Report, we would not have even needed this commission in the first place.

Classes of States Members -

In keeping with the aforementioned principles of simplicity, fairness and equality, I believe it is most democratic for there to be a single type of elected States Member, each of whom represents around the same amount of people. (I specifically use the word “elected” because I am unsure if it is within the terms of reference of this commission to talk about the unelected members).

The current system of having three types of member, each with different mandates and electoral bases is not good for democracy. Firstly, it complicates the system and has the capacity to confuse people at the ballot box. It can also skew the results of elections from being a true reflection of the views of the people, by some having more votes than others, some areas having more representation than others etc. If the system is completely equal across the whole island, the States of Jersey will be a true reflection of the views of the people.

So there should be one type of member. Call them what you will, Deputies, Senators, Members of Parliament etc that can be up to the discretion of the commission.

Of course, this means that the Constables will not be able to carry on being Ex Officio States Members. I understand that this means a break from the past in Jersey, but as I said in my preamble, it is absolutely necessary, because so long as the Constables remain as full voting members of the Assembly, Jersey’s democracy will be deficient. In the 21st Century it is simply anachronistic to have each Parish have an equally ranking representative when their populations vary so drastically. It means that not everyone’s vote is worth the same, and it goes completely against that idea of demos kratos. Leaving the Constables in the States is probably the worst mistake that this commission could make.

I completely reject the suggestion made by some that the Constables represent their Parishes views in the States. A Parish is not a homogenous group of people. In every Parish there will be a plurality of views which having one member to represent will not be able to do so. Also, many of the issues that the States debates are not issues that differ from Parish to Parish. For example, why is a Constable needed for Parish representation in a debate on the percentage of GST? For a decision like that, surely it is best for the representation across the island to be equal so that the States decision is representative of the views of the island?

The way things stand; a minority of the island, but a majority of the rural Parishes could end up winning a vote because of their overrepresentation with the Constables, even though the majority of the island might oppose it. This goes completely against the idea of demos kratos and in my opinion fuels much of the apathy about politics in Jersey because it makes many feel like their voices are not heard.

I accept that within the Parish, the role of the Constable is very important and I do not for a moment think that removing the Constables from the States would detract from that important position; in fact I think it would strengthen it. Running the Parish and being a States Member are two different types of job that could arguably require two different types of character.

At the last election, the defeat of the Constable of St Brelades was widely put down to the fact that he neglected his Parish because he was too busy with his ministerial role. This was rather sad, because had he not had a Parish to run, perhaps he could have been an excellent minister. Or perhaps even if he did not have a department to run, he could have run the Parish excellently! We will never know.

Many of the Constables end up being elected unopposed, which is not good for democracy for the people to not be offered a choice. If the roles of the Constable were separated, perhaps more candidates would put their names forward because as it stands, many people who would be good at running a Parish could be put off from the prospect of concurrently being a States Member, and vice versa. This would inevitably mean we would get more candidates come forward for the role and the electorate would have a richer choice. And if a Constable found themselves able to reconcile both roles, there would be nothing to stop them standing for the States on a separate mandate anyway.

But so long as they remain full voting members of the States of Jersey, Jersey cannot claim to be fully democratic, because it is completely against the idea of each person’s vote being equal. It means that those in the less densely populated Parishes have a representative whose voting power is disproportionate to their mandate.

If the commission found it impossible to consider their full removal from the Assembly (which I would be very disappointed by) then the only thing I could suggest would be a compromise that the Constables remain but without any of their voting rights. They should be in the same position as the Dean for example. Able to speak in debates and put forward a certain point of view, but not able to vote and take on positions of responsibility.

Constituencies and mandates –

So long as the principles I have mentioned before are adhered to, I do not think it is terribly important what the arrangement is, be it all island-wide or super constituencies. The important thing is that each constituency contains a similar number of people and each has the same number of States Members. I imagine that the easiest way to achieve this would be with several super constituencies (as they have in Guernsey), though I would be delighted if the Commission could devise a simple way of all members being elected island-wide (though I struggle to imagine a feasible way of doing this).

Though, of all the possible systems, I would much prefer that we avoided having lots of single member constituencies. The reason for this being that constituents could find themselves having a States Member that is unable to pursue their requests because of being too preoccupied with another role (e.g. a Minister) or some States Members could find themselves snowed under with constituent work because of a particular issue in one part of the island, whilst other members are less busy. Having multiple members in each constituency would mean no one would feel that their voice is being lost when their representative takes on a ministerial role and they would also be able to choose between several members to take on their work depending on their skills and interests.

It could also mean constituency boundaries are gerrymandered so certain points of view and political persuasions are not found in the States, simply because their electoral base is split between constituencies.

I note that voting systems was removed from the terms of reference for the Electoral Commission during a States debate, though I remember it being said in the debate that the commission could still consider it if it proved relevant. I consider it necessary that in multi member constituencies, it may be desirable to have a weighted voting system, whereby voters could place their chosen candidates in order of preference. At the last Senatorial election, I only used one of my four votes, because I had only one candidate whom I was desperate to be elected, and a few who I would be happy if they were elected, but I did not want to give them my votes, for fear that that one vote could push my first choice into fifth place. If votes were weighted, no one would have to worry about this dilemma.

Number of States Members -

This can be up to the discretion of the commission, so long as they reach their decision taking into account several things.

There should not be too few members so that members become overloaded with work, and there should also be room for a significant number of members to be able to act as an “opposition”. The role of an opposition is important in a parliamentary democracy to ensure legislation is scrutinised effectively. It is also important to offer the prospect of a government being able to be defeated on a particular vote so that they are unable to act dictatorially and have to earn the votes of the majority of the assembly by putting together good propositions.

That all being said, there should also not be too many members so as to render the government ineffective.

I do not think it is a good thing to just arbitrarily say the number should be cut down and pull a figure out of thin air as certain previous submitters appear to have done. Serious consideration and research must be done to find a number that would ensure all islanders are represented effectively and that all the functions of government and opposition can be carried out. For all we know, this might even mean the number has to be increased. So I recommend that the commission undertakes serious research to find out what the optimum number would be and stick to that.

Though that being said, it would be necessary to make the final number one that can be divided equally so that each constituency has an equal number of States Members. (This means no odd numbers!)

Lengths of term –

The people must have regular opportunities to pass a verdict on the performance of the States, but not so often as to distract the States from doing their work. Perhaps 3 years is too often to have an election (though this made sense with the rotating elections for Senators) and 6 years would be too long to allow the States to work without a public affirmation or declination.

Either 4 or 5 years would be suitable.

The one thing I would suggest to the commission is that it tries it’s best to avoid having a rotating terms of office system (as we used to have with half of the Senators being elected every 3 years). It is better for all States Members to be elected for the same terms on the same day. This empowers the people to be able to sweep away a government in one go if they are unpopular, rather than have to wait years for the process to be complete. A vital part of that demos kratos, is the people having the ability to get rid of a government they do not like, so a single election day for all States Members is vital.

I understand the argument that it can be good to have some continuity between the old house and the new, but I say that it does not matter how steady the ship is sailing if it is heading towards an iceberg. The democratic benefits outweigh the cons.

Conclusion –

In short, my recommendations are as follows:

· The States of Jersey should be made up of one single type of elected member,

· Every constituency should contain the same number of voters,

· The Constables should cease to be ex oficio members of the States,

· Each voter should have the same number of votes,

· If possible, there should be a weighted voting system,

· Terms of office should be either 4 or 5 years,

· The number of members should be sufficient for both government and opposition to be carried out effectively.

I thank the Commission for its time in reading my submission and I would be very much interested in expressing my views at a public hearing.

I am also happy for this submission to be published in its entirety.

Many thanks,
Samuel Mézec


  1. You know all this talk about the makeup of the States does not give us cheaper housing, employment for locals, lower taxes or inflation. So it's 'real' worth is only limited to a sparse number of people who appear to want more power in the States.
    Good luck with your meeting but I if you arranged a meeting addressing the items I just said, then I am sure more people would come along.

    1. I agree that all of those issues are far more important, but you'll notice there aren't any public commissions asking for submissions on those issues, so I don't think I'm out of line for choosing to talk about electoral reform instead, given that this is the only issue we have a direct opportunity to influence right now.

      If you read my preamble you'd see that this is nothing to do with who has the kratos in the States, is about demos kratos. The internal workings of the States are going to be exactly the same. The Commission itself is focusing only on the composition of the States. At the moment the States is unrepresentative, the aim of this is to make it representative.

      Jersey will always have a population that is unsatisfied with the housing, employment and tax situations if we have a government that doesn't reflect the will of the people. This commission is going to make sure we have a parliament that is more representative and will therefore tackle problems in a way that is more in line with the values of the public. That is it's "real" worth.

  2. SSTAG - The Social Security and Tenants' Action Group - was recently launched to address in a practical way many of the issues raised in your comments.

    Of course the public of this Island have not been flocking to attend the public meetings arranged so far, to join as mambers or give support - so we should not get carried away with enthusiasm for easy reform.

    That there is a great deal of discontent in Jersey, very real social and economic problems already and worse to come can hardly be in doubt - but it is notoriously difficult to form an organised opposition group.

    Nevertheless SSTAG is progressing very well and we would invite anybody to look at the blog site sstagjsy.blogspot.com for more information.

    don't just sit there - do something - as they say...

    1. They are not flocking to these meetings because its the same people arranging them and 2 were past failed candidates for election. Sometimes one has to realise that its time to let somebody else have a go and to take a lessor role.

    2. Rubbish. I've been to all sorts of meetings with various levels of turn outs organised by various different people and I've never noticed a correlation.

  3. Sam,

    I'm a right wing, free market, Porsche driving, proud Tory...old enough to have proudly voted for Thatcher...in short, poles apart from you politically. But even I can see that you are 100% totally and utterly bang on the money RIGHT!

    An excellent, well thought out and well argued proposition. If nothing else, Senator Bailhache should respect you for your intellect. There are very few 20 year olds prepared to do this.

    Good work. You are wasted on the Labour party though - the nasty party of Ed Balls and his financial incompetents.

    1. Haha excellent! Luckily this whole reform thing is neither a left nor right wing issue, just an issue on democracy and I have no doubt that plenty of right wingers are just as committed to the idea of demos kratos that us crazy lefties are!

  4. The only thing I disagree with is the length of political tenure. In a place lacking party politics where so many of our "independant" representatives become blissfully ignorant to the needs and desires of the public once elected, three years would keep them on their toes.

    Nothing else seems to work.

    1. That's a fair argument to be honest. I might be speaking at one of the public hearings, so I'll bring that point of view up.