03 April, 2008

Electoral Boundaries

We Must Entrench an Electoral Boundaries Commission in the Constitution. The difficult decisions surrounding an election are not all made by voters. One of these decisions is how to divide the island into voting districts or constituencies. Each constituency sends one representative to the House of Assembly. Each representative should, ideally, represent an approximately equal number of voters. This ensures balanced representation of all the people in the law-making body.

Constituency boundary lines in Commonwealth Caribbean countries are normally determined by a special, independent body. It is usually called the Electoral Boundaries Commission. Its powers usually, but not always, emerge from the country’s political constitution.

The Anguilla Constitution 1982 does not mention such a Commission. It merely permits the House of Assembly to pass an Act, or law, providing for the division of Anguilla into electoral districts for the purpose of elections. Section 46 reads:

Laws as to elections

46. Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the Legislature may provide for the election of members of the Assembly, including (without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing power) the following matters, that is to say—

(a) the qualifications and disqualifications of voters;

(b) the registration of voters;

(c) the ascertainment of the qualification of voters and of candidates for election;

(d) the division of Anguilla into electoral districts for the purpose of elections;

(e) the holding of elections; . . .

This section of the Constitution permits the Assembly at paragraph (d) to make a law providing for the division of Anguilla into electoral districts. This means a law establishing a Boundaries Commission. So, you would expect to find the Commission mentioned in the Elections Act. You will search in vain for it. The Act does not mention the Commission. So, there is no Commission for Anguilla. The electoral boundaries of Anguilla are frozen. They cannot, in practice, be redrawn to take account of Anguilla’s shifting population. Why is that objectionable? Of the seven political constituencies, voters are divided in the following proportions:

Island Harbour


Sandy Hill


Valley North


Valley South


Road North


Road South


West End


The implications are clear. We are still using the original seven constituencies that existed at the time of the Anguilla Constitution 1976, if not earlier. The three smallest constituencies of West End, Road North and Sandy Hill, with a voting population of some 2,100, control three out of the seven seats in the House. The 5,500 voters of the other four, Island Harbour, Valley North, Valley South, and Road South, must share the remaining four seats among them. That is clearly undemocratic.

It would take a change of the law to have the boundaries re-drawn. The politicians have fought hard to win their constituencies. They are not going to voluntarily or willingly submit themselves to taking a chance with altering their boundaries. They need a special push.

In most countries, Electoral Boundaries Commissions are established by law to ensure a balance is maintained. The boundaries are re-drawn from time to time, usually after a census, to more fairly reflect the voting population. The best way to provide for a Commission for Anguilla is to entrench it in the Constitution. That will force the authorities to take the necessary steps to ensure fairness.

During the Constitutional and Electoral Reform Commission’s work in early 2006, the people of Anguilla who made submissions on this were unanimously of the view that it was time for such a provision to be in our Constitution. A vast majority thought there should be 9 constituency representatives, and 4 “at large” representatives. As a result, the Commission recommended in its 2006 Report:

77. Boundaries Commission. One consequence of the recommendation for 9 constituencies is that the constituency boundaries will have to be redrawn. This must be overseen by an independent Boundaries Commission, which does not presently exist. The majority of persons making representations to the Commission have urged that there be 9 more or less equally sized constituencies. This is a matter for the Boundaries Commission to decide based on its analysis of the problem and the solution. The Commission recommends that the Constitution should be amended to provide for an independent Boundaries Commission whose duties will be established by a law.

It is not difficult to put this recommendation into a new Constitution. The Virgin Islands and the Turks & Caicos Islands have such a provision. They are BOTs such as we are. We only need to adopt the wording they have. Their Constitutions provide to the following effect:

Electoral District Boundary Commission

85. (1) An Electoral District Boundary Commission (in this section referred to as a “Commission”) shall be appointed from time to time at such time as the Governor, after consultation with the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition, may determine; but a Commission shall be appointed not later than four years after the last Commission submitted its report under section 60.

(2) A Commission shall consist of –

(a) a Chairman, being a person who holds or has held high judicial office or high legal office, appointed by the Governor, acting in his or her discretion.

(b) a member appointed by the Governor, acting in accordance with the advice of the Premier; and

(c) a member appointed by the Governor, acting in accordance with the advice of the Leader of the Opposition.

(3) A person shall not be qualified to be appointed as a member of the Commission if he or she is a member of the House of Assembly or a public officer other than the holder of a judicial office.

(4) The Chairman or other member of a Commission shall vacate his or her office –

(a) on the day following the submission of the report of the Commission under section 60;

(b) if any circumstances arise that, if he or she were not a member, would cause him or her to be disqualified for appointment as such; or

(c) if the Governor, acting in his or her discretion, directs that he or she shall be removed from office for inability to discharge the functions of his or her office (whether arising from infirmity of body or mind or from any other cause) or for misbehaviour.

Will the Chief Minister’s drafting committee, which is supposed to be putting the recommendations of the Commission into a draft Constitution for circulation to the public include such a provision? The people are waiting with increasingly mounting anxiety. I receive several emails a week on the subject.

Personally, I am not worried. Anguillians want this reform. The British want it. Members of the House of Assembly have nothing to fear from it.

It is almost guaranteed to happen.


  1. The most Democratic Reform would be the elimination of Constituncies and replacing them with Island-wide elections, commonly called "at-Large" seats.

    ALL seats in Anguilla should be At Large.

  2. Each country’s constitution is special, a testimony, unique and uncomparable and usually the product of dramatic political change, such as a revolution (American Revolution).

    The United Kingdom Constition is a product of an evolution of laws and conventions developd over centuries of years. Their constitutional statutes are enacted by their Parliament e.g. House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975, Northern Ireland Act 1998, Scotland Act 1998, Government of Wales Act 1998, European Communities Act 1972 and Human Rights Act 1998 which introduced the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law in the United Kingdom. Together are constitutional conventions, legal precedents, royal prerogatives, custom and traditions, all constitute the British Constitutional.

    Hypothetically, the UK Government can legislate that each of her Overseas Territories becomes 1 vote, each represented by their representative in the House of Commons. In actuality it will be unconstitutional under such a rigid recommendation made by the Constitutional Commission on commissions and commissioners. For this to be effective it will entail further amendments to the constitution, ratification, a further referendum process plus cost. On the other hand, under such a decision, the United Kingdom Government can very well legislate to suspend the Anguilla Constitution indefinitely.

    My question is, where is the commonsense to the arrogance, to our being an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom? This exercise is all but a test of wisdoms.

    What are foremost important in our constitution are its Human Rights values, which must be an extension or compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. Societies must be allowed to mature politically from their own individualistic experiences like every leading democracy in this world did before. Draconian laws must not be codified through a constitution. The idea that this lessens a radical approach is exemplified defeated (American Revolution or the Anguillian uprising) and rather creates movements, dictators, revolutions and counter revolutions or chaos. A less rigid more flexible constitution allows it to encompass future developments, situations or an unforeseeable crisis through competent Parliament and legislation.

    I therefore reiterate that yes, whereas suggestions made are clearly to improve transparency, accountability and good governance, they ought to be implemented by the works of a competent Parliament through the legislative process and not imported draconically from a constitution. Democracy must be given a chance to develop and not forced on a people.

    Again, I beg we the people of Anguilla and Government alike to take our most humble time by not rushing to any constitutional change without firstly critically analyzing such recommendations put forward through injection or rejection where necessary. No one, no authority, not even the UK nor the United Nations for that matter, will nor can, rush us into any acceptance or change of any future constitution. I beg the populace not to accept any change to the present constitution without a constitutional referendum. To do otherwise will be unwise, unconstitutional and undemocratic.

    Beware, you are warned!

  3. Paragraph 2 - British Constitutional to British Constitution


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.