The last pre-independence general election took place in 1980. At that time, there were 9 constituencies, 7 in St Kitts and 2 in Nevis. Excluding Anguilla where there was no polling, there were 19,921 persons on the register of voters, with constituency size ranging from a low of 1,693 persons to a high of 3307 voters. In this election, 74.6% of registered voters participated.
The largest constituency was twice as large as the smallest.
The first election post-independence took place in 1984. In it, 11 constituencies were contested, 8 in St. Kitts and 3 in Nevis (although one of the Nevis seats was returned unopposed). At this time, there were 24,504 registered voters of which 77.8% voted (excluding the 1,176 who didn’t have to vote). For this election, the constituencies ranged in size from 1,176 to 4,045. The largest constituency was therefore 3.4 times as large as the smallest.
In between these two elections, in 1983, we acquired independence and adopted a Constitution which called for electoral constituencies to be as near equal as possible. This ideal has been echoed by the Commonwealth, the OAS, CARICOM and local pundits. The fact that the constituencies were primarily described along parish lines and that parishes themselves varied considerably in population size seems to have been completely ignored.
The 2007 ERCC report on Electoral Reform documented peoples’ concerns about this concept of equality among constituencies. Among them was a suggestion to accept up to 15% variation in size. Anything greater than 15% would trigger a review of boundaries. Yet another recommendation was to do nothing, as equality was impossible to achieve given natural population distribution and the “impact of overseas based voters”.
The last two attempts at Boundary re-alignment for equality, the latest in 2015, were met with Court challenges and eventually failure. And so today’s constituencies continue to vary in size from 1,589 to 6,114, with the largest being 3.8 times the size of the smallest.
In other words, the large constituency is getting larger, and the small is not growing as fast. Will the promised Electoral Reform change anything?
Can we achieve and maintain one man, one vote in the right place and fairness to all with unequal constituencies? Some say we have, others say we will. I say we must. That is my mandate.