Tuesday, 7 August 2012

My interview with the Electoral Commission


I've received an advance copy of the transcript of my interview with the Electoral Commission, which is posted below.

Tomorrow (Wednesday 8th August) the Chief Minister Senator Ian Gorst is being interviewed by the commission at 10am in the Blampied Room in the States building (through the entrance to the Royal Court) which is open for the public to view. I'll be going and will do a write up after if anything of interest is said.

After that, on the 17th August at 10am at St Pauls Centre, Reform Jersey member Daniel Wimberley and Deputy Pitman (who made a great submission from the floor at the Reform Jersey meeting last week) will be giving evidence. So that is one not to be missed.

I'd also want to draw attention to the submission of the Constable of St Peter "on behalf of the parishioners" which can be viewed here - http://www.electoralcommission.je/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Refault-Connetable-John-on-behalf-of-parishioners-of-St-Peter.pdf

He has suggested, as a small number of others have too, that there should only be 12 deputies, one for each Parish.

This is one of the most absurd propositions that I have seen submitted. Jersey is not a parochial society, it is a collection of just under 100,000 individuals, each of whom has their own independent views, irrespective of where they live in the island. The idea that we can chop the island up into 12 unequal districts and give them each the same say is fundamentally ridiculous and undemocratic. It's essentially gerrymandering.

I hope a sensible resident of St Peters reads this and writes to the commission saying how the Constable does not speak on your behalf and how his suggestions are simply fanciful.

The only solution fit for Jersey is one where every single islander is treated equally and fairly. That means -
1. Each States Member should represent the same number of people.
2. The system should be simple.
3. Each voter should have the same number of votes.

So get writing and make this point!


Sam


_________________________________________________________________________________

STATES OF JERSEY

Electoral Commission

MONDAY, 16th JULY 2012



Panel:
Senator P.M. Bailhache (Chairman)
Mr. C. Storm (Vice-Chairman)
Deputy J.P.G. Baker of St. Helier
Connétable J. Gallichan of St. Mary
Professor E. Sallis
Dr. J. Renouf

Witness:
Mr. S. Mezec

[11:17]

Senator P.M. Bailhache:
Come and take a seat.

Mr. S. Mezec:
Thanks very much for having me.

Senator P.M. Bailhache:
Mr. Mezec, thank you very much for your submission first of all, or your 2 submissions.  I think you have probably already had a reply to the first one asking us to do various pieces of research.  Have you had a reply to that or not?

Mr. S. Mezec:
Yes.

Senator P.M. Bailhache:
You have.  So that is the Commission’s position on that.  But thank you very much for your detailed points that you make in your second submission and we would like to ask you to draw our attention to any points that you think are particularly important or add to it in any way that you would like to do.

Mr. S. Mezec:
Okay, well for me I think the most important part is the preamble because that sort of sets the context ahead for any decision that is going to be made under these 4 things that are being considered.  I start by talking about the actual word “democracy” and where it originates from and my Greek friend tells me that it means demos kratos which means people and power.  That is pretty much the best definition I think you can get for democracy.  It is the process by which the people are empowered to govern the society they live in and so whenever you are proceeding to make any decisions on how the democratic process works, what it is consisted of and how the executive is made up and all that, the question you need to be asking at every single point is are the people empowered through this.  Does this reflect this idea of the people having power, this demos kratos, this democracy?  So when you look at various electoral systems you can see little nooks and crannies that are in there to make sure they are as representative as they possibly can be.  When you look at Jersey ... the whole reason this commission is being had is because there are lots of things in the Jersey system that are not quite in line with that idea of the demos kratos of people having power.  The main point that obviously a lot of time has been dedicated from the previous 2 speakers has been the fact that in certain parts of the Island votes are not the same because of populations having more representation, some parts having less representation, some people having more votes than others, some people only having one vote.  That sort of leads to an end which is not satisfactory at all because it is just not representative.  People are not represented across the Island for their views, they are represented for where they are from and that is not really the best way to be conducting things in a 21st century democracy, you want to have the legislature made up of the right percentages of people for what their views are compared to what the views are there in the real world.  So my conclusion, I think, just very briefly, bullet points, what I think the most democratic system that Jersey could possibly have, that would be practical and workable as well and that is simply to have one type of States Members, each States Member represents the same number of people, each person has the same number of votes and for the number of States Members ... I have not given an arbitrary number and I do not think it is right to give a specific number until it is looked into properly how many we could have while all the functions of government and opposition can be effectively carried out.  So there is no under representation on any of those parts and whatever that number ends up being would be the suitable one in my opinion and whether that ends up being 42, whether it ends up being 48, or even ... unlikely, but if it ended up 60, you know, it would have to be that if that meant all of the positions were able to be filled and carried out effectively.

Senator P.M. Bailhache:
Can I interrupt you just to try to clarify which you think is the most important.  I am just harking back to your point that votes are not the same and there are really 2 issues there, are there not?  There is the question of how many votes each individual elector has and there is a question of how many voters are represented by each elected representative.  Which is most important, do you think?

Mr. S. Mezec:
I would say very slightly the latter, how many people each States Member represents but I do not want to play down the significance of the other point as well.  I think that is just as important as well because you can have a position in St. Helier where one constituency, they have 4 votes for their Deputies and in other places you only have one vote for Deputy, that can sort of leave room for certain points of view ... within the constituency the majority ... therefore votes are more likely to be just replicated of each of their votes.  If somebody in St. Helier No. 4 who is conservative, or of that political persuasion, therefore votes are just going to be for conservatives - I mean small “c” conservative obviously - and everybody else in that constituency, if the majority of people agree with them and vote for conservatives then that parish will be represented by 4 conservatives, even though maybe it was only 60 per cent of the people, the other 40 per cent may have been socialists and given all 4 of their votes to socialists.  So you end up having ... you are represented entirely by conservatives when there is a significant percentage that would have gone for somebody else instead. 

Senator P.M. Bailhache:
In the absence of party politics, how do you solve the problem?

Mr. S. Mezec:
My overall view was it would end up being closer to super constituencies where people have weighted votes, everybody had the same number of votes across the Island and the constituencies were drawn up on a population basis and that way people could vote ... well, they could use all of their votes happily for a start, they would not be worried about giving their third and fourth vote to people who they were only 50 per cent on, whereas there were other candidates who they were 70 or 80 per cent on and that would fix it across the Island where everybody ... the ideal situation would be for every States Member to be elected Island-wide and then the percentages would work in terms of representation, but then that obviously have the practicality issues and whether you can reconcile that with having a general election day and all that.  So I think having the super constituencies would be as close to having Island-wide as possible.  We could go for each single member constituency for a 45 or whatever, but then you end up like in the U.K. (United Kingdom) it is possible to get an overall majority in the Parliament without having a majority of votes.  It has happened a few times.  In 1974 was one occasion.  So James mentioned having S.T.V. (single transferable vote), I think that would probably be the best way of sorting out in super constituencies.

Professor E. Sallis:
Would the super constituencies have a parish base or would you just divide the Island, I do not know, in quarters or in fifths or something?

Mr. S. Mezec:
I think that is a good question.  In Jersey people identify with the parishes a lot.  When you ask someone where they live, they do not say: “I live in the northeast”, they say: “I live in this parish, I live in that parish.”  So if there is a way for it to be drawn up around the parish borders then that would be convenient and that would hopefully be practical.  The only thing to reconcile that with is the population.  I would say the population issue does come first.  You cannot have a system where parishes are there just because they are parishes, the important issue is getting the population ... when I was doing some reading for this, I came across a proposition that was put forward in the States a couple of years ago and it had a chart in it.  I wish I had printed it off, I only got to the Island yesterday.  I might print it off and send it to you, but it had a suggestion, it was not binding or anything it was a suggestion, of how the parishes could be grouped together where their populations would work out as being roughly the same and I do not see a reason why that could not be used.

Professor E. Sallis:
We have had people, though, who have suggested something similar, that the problem is let us say you put together, I do not know, St. Peter and St. Brelade - just for argument’s sake - and then you end up not electing anybody from St. Peter because the majority of the population is St. Brelade.  Would you think get people in St. Peter saying: “We do not have representation any longer, the bigger parish has overwhelmed us” do you see that as a problem or not?

Mr. S. Mezec:
I would hope not.  Because you do end up in situations like the U.K. where you can get a Scottish person standing in England or vice versa.  I would hope that people would look at the district and say: “I am representing a district.”  Because it is based around parishes but not based around the parish, the singular, it is based around several parishes so when people would stand they would presumably have a manifesto that would cover issues that include the other parishes.  No person standing in St. Brelade would want to cut off the electorate from St. Peter, would they?  They would want to ...

Professor E. Sallis:
Well, we would hope not.

Mr. S. Mezec:
Yes, exactly.  They would presumably want to be as inclusive of the whole district and so I would have thought for their own electoral reasons they would not want to cut off the other parish.  So I would not see it as being that much of a problem hopefully?

Dr. J. Renouf:
I am interested, you mentioned the parish system and people’s identity with the parishes.  Do you think that is as powerful a draw amongst say your generation as it is in the population as a whole?

Mr. S. Mezec:
Not at all.  To be perfectly honest.  I think when younger people like myself look at Jersey politics, they are looking at issues that affect everybody because ... I went to Hautlieu School, which does not have a specific catchment area.  So I went to school with people who are from all across the Island and when people were talking about Jersey, they were not talking about issues that were just based around one parish, they were talking about issues that were Island-wide.  When I was at school the big debate was on G.S.T. (Goods and Services Tax) because that was happening at that time.  That is not a parish issue.  You do not need a specific parish representative to put forward the parish’s view on an Island-wide issue like G.S.T.  St. Martin is not going to be worse off if it does not have someone to put forward the St. Martin because parishes are not homogeneous.  Everybody has got their own point of view and so the bigger the districts are, you will be more likely to be inclusive of the different points of view rather than the majority of each individual parish being the only thing that has its view put forward.  One parish might have 49 per cent of people in favour of one thing, 51 per cent in another and because there is only one Constable then only that 51 per cent view is going to get put forward.

Senator P.M. Bailhache:
Sorry, I did not understand that.  Why would a larger constituency be more homogeneous than a parish?

Mr. S. Mezec:
I would not, it would be more diverse.  If there were ...

Senator P.M. Bailhache:
That is the opposite, is it not?

Mr. S. Mezec:
What do you mean as in ...?

Senator P.M. Bailhache:
Diversity as opposed to homogeneity.

Mr. S. Mezec:
Well, yes, there are going to be people in every area that are going to have different views and so if there is ...

Senator P.M. Bailhache:
I understand the point that you are making but a parish consists of a whole lot of people with different views, I would have thought exactly the same thing applies to a larger constituency.

[11:30]

Mr. S. Mezec:
Yes, of course it will, but there will be more representatives in the large constituency.  In a single parish like St. Mary where they only have one Constable and one Deputy, whereas if it were as super constituency they would have 6 or 8 or however many it would be, and so because each person would get in with a percentage they would not have to get 51 per cent if it were a 2 person race.  You could get in with 20 per cent or you could get in with 30 per cent.  That would correlate with what the views are within that district because it is multi member.  So you would have ... especially if it was weighed voting as well, you would be more likely to have a diverse set of candidates come forward, but then there would probably be ... there would end up being majorities for one point of view.  You know, if 60 percent of people in one super constituency were of one persuasion, then as long as they mark their ballots accordingly to that and 60 per cent of the winners would get that and 40 per cent would represent the other view.  Most people consider the Senatorial elections to be the most democratic on the Island because it is multi member and people have the same amount of votes across the Island and so people can gather what the mood is of the Island as a whole by looking at the Senatorial results a lot better than they can by looking at one small district or one parish.  I have said before that has practicality difficulties so having the super constituencies is a sort of halfway point there.  It is going to be more representative because it covers a larger population and so it is as close to an Island-wide system as you can get but still being practical is what I think.

Mr. C. Storm:
In your conclusions you talk about the introduction of a weighted system.  What do you mean by that?

Mr. S. Mezec:
It is similar to what James was saying before, the S.T.V.  I think I mention it in my submission, at the last Senatorial election I only used one of my votes because I had one candidate who I liked a lot and I had 3 or 4 who I quite liked, but then I looked at it and thought: “Well, if I am in the first past the post system like what we have now I would be pretty upset if my first choice was beaten by my fourth choice by a couple of votes, i.e. pushed back into fifth, I would be quite upset by that because each of my votes on the ballot paper is worth the same”, whereas in my head they are not all worth the same.  I do have preferences and so I would prefer a system where you can have a second preference vote like you can in mayoralty elections in the U.K.  One option is a list system but I think that might be a bit too difficult when there are not parties in Jersey.  I think when the A.V. (Alternative Vote) debate was going on the U.K. there was a suggestion about A.V. plus for the U.K., which was the same principle but instead of small constituencies it was in regions of the U.K.  So that would be similar to Jersey because it would be districts, so that is sort of like the regions here.  Then on the ballot paper you rank them in order of preference and so if your favourite one does not get in and, you know, does not even come close they disregard that vote and go for your second preference instead.  So you are more likely to have ... so minority views are not getting pushed aside just because they are at 20 per cent instead of 49 per cent or something like that.

Mr. C. Storm:
Some people who have been talking to us and writing to us have been looking at the frustration some people feel with the number of commissioners and recommendations and examinations that have come forward without their being anything substantial coming out of those processes.  Therefore some people have suggested that this commission should consider an evolutionary process rather than a radical process, in other words, one bite at a time, which could lead to the whole process dragging on a little bit and, as I said before, other people recommend that a radical approach to change, where would you stand on that?

Mr. S. Mezec:
Are we talking about ending at the same place, just having a transitional process?

Mr. C. Storm:
Yes, absolutely.

Mr. S. Mezec:
My answer to that is, is that best way to empower people?  Is that going to maintain enough stability so that we encounter problems along the way and can fix them before we reach the final point?  Because you could change everything all in one go and then find yourself with a States Assembly that is just not working at all because one little point was missed out or one eventuality was not considered.  So there would be merits in that.  I hope that the Commission puts forward something that is good enough to work first time around, though.  So I could see that as hopefully being the result.  If it is done as soon as possible to get to the democratic ...

Mr. C. Storm:
Particularly given the history that we have been through.

Mr. S. Mezec:
Yes, exactly.

Mr. C. Storm:
Right, thank you.

Connétable J. Gallichan of St. Mary:
Can I just ask about something you touched on very briefly about the general election?  Do you think the move to a general election was significant and would you like to see that retained?

Mr. S. Mezec:
Technically we have not had it yet because half of the Senators were not elected at the last elections, so people referred to that as a general election but ...

The Connétable of St. Mary:
Well, a single election day.

Mr. S. Mezec:
Yes, it was a single election day but not all the Members were up for election.  I think it is part of that demos kratos, that people’s power, that everybody should be elected on the same day because if you end up with a government that is incredibly unpopular in the Island and the people are desperate to get rid of, you have to be able to get rid of them in one go, you cannot get rid of half of them and then have to wait 3 years for the other half of them.  My friend, James, talked about stability and I have used the metaphor in mine about the iceberg.  If you are heading towards an iceberg stability is irrelevant, you do not want stability, you want to be able to change course as quickly as you can, and so if there were a circumstance in Jersey where people were very unhappy with the government and needed to get rid of it as quickly as possible, then there would have to be a mechanism for empowering the people so that they can pass that verdict on their government and get rid of it in favour of a new one.

Senator P.M. Bailhache:
The real solution to that is party politics, is it not?

Mr. S. Mezec:
Yes, I agree, absolutely.  My friends who spoke before have agreed with that.  I personally think that party politics is the most democratic way of people having their say but then I completely accept that is not exactly something that can be legislated for.  That has to be a grass roots things.  But I see it is feasible in Jersey and I see it as being completely ... I think Jersey would pull it off very well if we did get around to it.  I mentioned in my submission Gibraltar, and Gibraltar is a place ... I know you went to Guernsey to have a look, I would recommend a trip to Gibraltar as well.  If you time it right you might even have some good weather.  But as a jurisdiction I did some reading on it and I think they have got a lot of things right in their political system, they had an absolutely huge turnout at the last election.  Just by accident I happened to come across on YouTube the actual recording of their election results broadcast, and because it is a small place it was all in their town hall and all of the party leaders took it up in turns to thank each other and it was very civil thing.  The candidates did have their differences but it is not like the U.K. where a lot of the differences can be very nasty.  People in one party can make really cheap points against another and I know that would not be popular in Jersey and frankly I would not wish it on anybody to be honest, but what they had in Gibraltar looked, I think, something that would be great in Jersey.  Their last election, their Conservative Government was thrown out in favour of the Socialist Party, after the Conservative Government being in power for something like 16 or 17 years.  So that showed that the people of Gibraltar had had a governing party that they liked so much that they kept for however many years, but the times moved on and they decided they wanted a change and they had a mechanism that enabled them to do that swiftly, effectively and there was no nastiest about it either.  All the parties do still work with each other very closely but it is clear the public wanted to give one group a mandate to govern and they are the people that are doing it and I think that would be the best solution for Jersey.

The Connétable of St. Mary:
The reason I asked you about the single day is you said about the Island-wide vote and although I struggled to imagine a feasible way of doing this, you have had some contributors who have said the way to do it is an Island-wide vote and simply you will do it, so many elected every year on a rolling basis, but you would reject that, would you?

Mr. S. Mezec:
Yes, I do like the idea of Island-wide voting but it goes back to my overall point of the demos kratos and people power, and one of the fundamental powers that they need to have is to be able to get rid of government and they have to be able to do that in one go.  I think that is so important that it outweighs the Island-wide voting, especially when the super constituencies I see are something that could be almost as good.  But then it has the other benefits that I think make it better than having an Island-wide done every couple of years.

The Connétable of St. Mary:
If I could continue then.  I just wanted to check with you about the parish role because you have said that you do not think removing the Constables from the States would detract from the position of the Constable - and I think it was James who also mentioned the importance of the parish - do you think it would be possible to maintain the parish system long-term if there was a ...

Mr. S. Mezec:
I think often having Constables in the States can be divisive and, in my opinion, it does harm because I have had Constables that I think have done a very good job at running the parish but I have been so angry at how they have voted in the States and so when it comes to my election time I look at their manifestos and I just find it so difficult because I might like one thing that they have done in the parish and that to me is what the Constables should be doing.  But I have been annoyed at what they have done in the States and so it makes it harder to decide who to vote for.  Personally I think if the Constables are removed from the States I think the position would be a lot better because you could end up getting people who are standing on a specific platform and specific parish issues, people who are lot less ... they are not going to have a problem if say somebody is in favour of one thing in the parish but is in favour of raising G.S.T. to 25 per cent.  Some people might think that is a great idea but a lot of people think it is a terrible idea, even though their parish policies are great they cannot vote for them because they have that moral reason to not like what they are going to be putting forward in the States.  So I think that with the 2 roles separated you would also get more people coming forward for the position of Constable because a lot of people are attached to their parish, they like living in the parish, they like being a part of the community there but they would not like the idea of being a States Member, they would not like the scrutiny that goes with that from the public, a lot of the disdain that a lot of people have for that position, for being in the States and voting on things sometimes that controversial and unpopular, whereas in the parish I think people would like their Constables a lot more personally, and I think that would be a good thing for us to get on with our Constables a lot better.  I think it would strengthen both institutions, the States and parish.

Mr. C. Storm:
A question we have asked other people who have come along, if given the choice of only having one of your recommendations that you would put forward would you be prepared to say which one you would choose?

Mr. S. Mezec:
I have made it clear in my submission that I think the biggest mistake the Commission could make would be to leave the Constables in the States, not just for the reasons that I have just outlined about how I think it would strengthen the Constables’ position but the Constables being in the States with their parish boundaries is irreconcilable with democracy at the end of the day because the number of voters for each different parish just varies by too much that it is just undemocractic.  Unless St. Helier was given 10 Constables or unless we had more Constables ...

Dr. J. Renouf:
It is an unruly place, after all.

Mr. S. Mezec:
Exactly.  That is the main thing.  The important thing is everybody having an equal vote and the Constables are the biggest obstacle to that, and I think it is bad for their position as well.  So I think it is a win/win situation removing them from the States in my opinion.  The compromise that I would make is to let them be like the Dean of Jersey who is allowed to speak in the States but is not allowed to take on any roles or allowed to vote.  That would be a compromise that I think would be tolerable.  So I think that is important to be on the table as well.

Dr. J. Renouf:
The Upper House idea?

Mr. S. Mezec:
My friend, James, has put an eloquent case forward but I am not convinced it is necessary to be honest.  I think Jersey could be fine with one Chamber.  So long as we do not have too few Members.  If the number of Members were cut by a large amount in the main Chamber in the States then there might be a reason to have it but so long as we keep a sensible number in the main Chamber, I do not see it as necessary.

Senator P.M. Bailhache:
Could I just press you a little bit on S.T.V. because I think different people mean different things by S.T.V.  You said you cast only one vote in the Senatorial elections.  Do you envisage that you would have a system whereby you would have, in the last election for example, 4 votes to cast and you could cast them all for one candidate, or do you mean by S.T.V. that you would rank your candidates ...

Mr. S. Mezec:
Ranking, I think, yes.  Because you may have 2 candidates who you really like and third one who you almost like as much and if you had your 4 votes but could give them all to one candidate I think that might skew things a little bit.  I think it would be better to have it ranking.  There might be a candidate who 80 per cent of the electorate quite like and would have happily have there but there just happens to be more candidates who smaller numbers of people really like and so would give them the vote. 

[11:45]

I think that person who is quite liked by a lot of people might have a more reason to be the one that is elected because of the more generic support they have across parish, so I think a weighted system where you put 1, 2, 3, 4 or whatever on your ballot paper would be the best one.

Senator P.M. Bailhache:
Thank you very much, Mr. Mezec, is there anything else before you leave the chair that you would like to ...

Mr. S. Mezec:
The one thing that was sort of connected to the first letter I sent and it is line with this demos kratos idea of people being empowered, I would like to see that as much information as possible is out there.  Objective information, statistics and facts and things like that to be on the website or sent out in leaflets like the original one that was sent out to every household.  Just so people are as informed as possible because an ignorant group of people are not going to make a good decision if they do not the facts around them.  So I really think it is important for the Commission to dedicate some time, either themselves or delegate to another body to do a substantial amount of research on things like what class of Member puts forward the most propositions, what class of Member takes up the most important positions of responsibility and what parts of the Island contribute.  Objective statistics could come from that that I think would be really important for people just to know so that when they are making an informed decision they can look at what the best way to empower themselves would be and I think the quality of submissions would be good if people had that information.  That is just my one interim recommendation that maybe interim reports are put out about various findings that are gathered.  Just so people are as informed as possible when they make their submissions.  I think that is really important.

Senator P.M. Bailhache:
Thank you very much indeed.

Mr. S. Mezec:
Great, thanks very much.

[11:46]



4 comments:

  1. Great submission. Re your comments about the Constable of St Peter. Surely he is relaying the views that he has been asked to relay after a parish meeting. They are not necessarily his views? He is a servant of the Parish.

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    1. I have faith that the majority of parishioners in St Peters don't agree with such an ill thought out view, hence why I'm hoping someone will write from St Peters denouncing it.

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  2. You are an idiot! I hope to see your name as a candidate in the next elections as it will be very clear you will not be elected into the States.

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    1. Thanks for your comment 61*, it's always refreshing to see a troll comment without any spelling or grammatical errors.

      It almost gave off the illusion that I may be dealing with someone with a mental capacity worth engaging with. But then again, anyone that insults a stranger for no reason clearly has some issues they need to seek help for.

      Delete