Minister: New Electoral Process For City Elections

February 25, 2015

[Updated with video] In advance of the municipal elections scheduled for Hamilton and St. George’s in May 2015, Minister of Home Affairs Michael Fahy provided an overview of how the new electoral process will work.

Speaking in the Senate today [Feb 25] the Minister said that Government “took the view that business ratepayers should have the right to representation of their interests” so amendments to the Municipalities Act 1923 were made.

Minister Fahy said: “There will be three elections held simultaneously: one for mayor; one for municipal residents; one for business ratepayers. Candidates for Mayor can be nominated by municipal residents or by business ratepayers, and will be selected by all voters.

Update: PLP Senator Diallo Rabain speaking about the discussion about the Bill in the Senate today

“Candidates for residents’ Councillors will be nominated by municipal residents, and candidates for business ratepayers’ Councillors will be nominated by business ratepayers. A candidate for business ratepayers’ Councillor will not be allowed to also be nominated as a candidate for residents’ Councillor.

“Only individuals who are ordinarily resident in the municipal area [and registered in the parliamentary register] are entitled to be registered as municipal residents. Only owners and occupiers of “business premises” [as defined in section 1[1] of the principal Act] are qualified to be registered as business ratepayers.

“Therefore, the Owner and Occupier of an office building in a municipality who pay city taxes will be both able to cast a vote. However, in either situation, the person must apply to be registered, and be qualified to be registered.

“If a person lives in the municipal area, and is registered in the parliamentary register, he or she will automatically be a registered municipal resident and can vote in a municipal residents’ election. If he or she owns business premises that are chargeable to rates within the municipal area, he is also qualified to be registered as a business ratepayer and to vote in a business ratepayers’ election.”

Poster courtesy of Elections.gov.bm:

registration-pamphlet

The Minister said the “second key innovation” is allocating council seats between residents and business ratepayers.

“Upon the finalization of the voters’ register, the proportion of resident voters to ratepayer voters will be calculated by the Parliamentary Registrar in accordance with the Act,” the Minister said.

“Using this proportion the 8 councilor seats will be allocated to represent ratepayers and residents in proportions to correspond roughly to their respective populations in each municipality.

“However, irrespective of the proportions, residents and business ratepayers will be guaranteed a minimum of two councilors to represent them. ”

The changes have attracted some criticism, with an Opposition spokesperson previously saying, “The Bermuda Progressive Labour Party stands for one man, one vote of equal value. That’s why we voted against the OBA’s latest attempt to take Bermuda backwards; restoring the business vote in municipal elections.

“Our position is that this regressive step by the OBA further marginalizes Bermudians, particularly the residents of North Hamilton, and restores an imbalance of power that existed for generations under the old oligarchy.

“While most of the world has either scrapped the business vote or is looking at voting reform, the OBA have chosen to take Bermuda backwards in the wrong direction. ”

Update 6.08pm: Senator Diallo Rabain said, “It’s an Act that’s being put in place that actually takes a vote away from persons who own residential properties but don’t live in the city will not be able to vote, but people who own commercial properties and don’t live in the city, or don’t occupy the building, will be enabled to vote.

“What we feel that they are doing is they are stacking the deck against the residents of the city in favour of the businesses, and where the businesses will perpetually have a greater say in what goes on with Corporation of Hamilton business.

“We were talking about we need to get a system where it is more balanced and much more fair. How can you have a system where if you own a commercial piece of property but you don’t live in it, you get a vote, but if you own a residential piece of property, you don’t get a vote?

“To us it just seems like bringing back the property vote all over again,” continued the Senator.

“The other thing that we discussed was when a person owns multiple businesses throughout Hamilton, they still essentially get as many votes as businesses that they have. Although they don’t personally get to vote, they get to nominate a proxy to vote for them.

“But we all know how that proxy is going to vote. The proxy is going to vote how the owner wishes them to vote. So in essence, you’re creating a situation where people can have multiple votes and we know who these people are.”

The Minister’s full statement follows below:

Madam President and Honourable Members of the Senate,

I am pleased to introduce the Bill entitled Municipalities Amendment Act 2015. The Bill seeks to amend the Municipalities Act 1923 to make further provision regarding the ordinary municipal election scheduled for May 2015, and for any other municipal election to be held thereafter.

Madam President,

As the Honourable Premier indicated when presenting on the 2013 legislative changes, this Government supported eradication of an electoral system that denied the residents their fundamental right to vote. It was to that end that we supported reforms brought in by the former Government in 2010 to expand the right to vote to all residents of the municipalities.

However, this Government also took the view that business ratepayers should have the right to representation of their interests, and the appropriate amendments to the Municipalities Act 1923 were made in the Municipalities Amendment Act 2013.

The amendments contained within this Bill will complement those amendments. Many of the changes made by the 2013 Amendment Act will be brought into effect with this Bill’s passage. This Bill also contains a number of technical amendments aimed at improving the administration of municipal elections due to be held in May of this year.

Madame President,

As a reminder, I wish to give my Honourable colleagues a brief overview of how the new electoral process will work. There will be three elections held simultaneously: one for mayor; one for municipal residents; one for business ratepayers. Candidates for Mayor can be nominated by municipal residents or by business ratepayers, and will be selected by all voters.

Candidates for residents’ Councillors will be nominated by municipal residents, and candidates for business ratepayers’ Councillors will be nominated by business ratepayers. A candidate for business ratepayers’ Councillor will not be allowed to also be nominated as a candidate for residents’ Councillor.

Madame President,

Despite the technical nature of the Bill before this Honourable Chamber today, Madam President, there are three main innovations worth highlighting.

First, the administration of municipal elections will be the responsibility of the Parliamentary Registrar and not the Secretaries of the Corporations. This is an approach consistent with international best practices as various Electoral Commissions throughout the Commonwealth world are responsible for local and Parliamentary elections in their jurisdictions.

The Parliamentary Registrar will therefore assume responsibility for compiling and maintaining both the municipal residents’ and business ratepayers’ registers of voters. In addition, she will assume responsibility for appointing polling days for municipal elections and determining electoral timetables.

The Bill provides the registration process for business ratepayers. Municipal residents already listed on the Parliamentary Register as ordinarily resident in the municipal areas will automatically be included the municipal residents’ registers.

Madame President,

Only individuals who are ordinarily resident in the municipal area [and registered in the parliamentary register] are entitled to be registered as municipal residents. Only owners and occupiers of “business premises” [as defined in section 1[1] of the principal Act] are qualified to be registered as business ratepayers.

Therefore, the Owner and Occupier of an office building in a municipality who pay city taxes will be both able to cast a vote. However, in either situation, the person must apply to be registered, and be qualified to be registered.

If a person lives in the municipal area, and is registered in the parliamentary register, he or she will automatically be a registered municipal resident and can vote in a municipal residents’ election. If he or she owns business premises that are chargeable to rates within the municipal area, he is also qualified to be registered as a business ratepayer and to vote in a business ratepayers’ election.

The second key innovation, Madam President, is provision in respect of allocating council seats as between residents and business ratepayers. The 2013 Amendment Act anticipated a hybrid form of proportional representation providing for an inclusive yet balanced approach to be introduced by regulations. The Government has instead opted to include this allocation process directly into primary legislation by way of the present Bill.

The proposed section 18A sets out the formula for allocating the 8 councilor seats as between residents and business ratepayers. Upon the finalization of the voters’ register, the proportion of resident voters to ratepayer voters will be calculated by the Parliamentary Registrar in accordance with the Act. Using this proportion the 8 councilor seats will be allocated to represent ratepayers and residents in proportions to correspond roughly to their respective populations in each municipality.

However, irrespective of the proportions, residents and business ratepayers will be guaranteed a minimum of two councilors to represent them. The formula for calculating the allocation of seats ensures that the smaller of the two groups [whether residents of business ratepayers] in any municipality requires a lower threshold. For example, the smaller group requires the threshold of [one registered voter] more than two-eighths to be allocated three seats, and [one registered voter] more than three-eighths to be allocated four seats.

Madam President, the Bill will apply the procedure in place in respect of Parliamentary elections to all municipal elections with necessary modifications. The Act, once passed, will bring into force the scheduled ‘Municipalities [Election] Order 2015’, which will apply the provisions of the Parliamentary Election Act 1978 to municipal elections with the modifications that are set out in the Order.

The 2015 Order will replace the Municipalities [Election] Order 2011 [“the 2011 Order”] because it is now necessary to make different provision for a business ratepayers’ election, a municipal residents’ election and a mayoral election. As the Bill makes clear, these new provisions will not apply in respect of any municipal election which is held before the next ordinary ones in May 2015.

The Municipalities Act 1923, as it currently is, and the 2011 Order will continue to have effect in respect of any municipal election that may be held before the ordinary municipal election in May 2015.

Finally, Madam President, I thought it appropriate to clear up a few points that have arisen during the course of debate in another place. To be registered as a business ratepayer, a person must meet the qualification requirements to be established by the Act once amended.

That person must then submit an application to the Parliamentary Registrar. Persons registered as business ratepayers are not entitled to appear on the register more than once, whether in their own right or as nominees, and consequently, can only vote once.

A ‘person’ includes individuals and legal persons, such as corporations. If you have a variety of persons or companies that own or occupy valuation units within a Corporation which are primarily used as business premises and in respect of which, are chargeable to rates, each such person or company is entitled to be registered as a business ratepayer.

It is conceivable to have one individual person own the controlling interest in multiple companies which in turn own or occupy valuation units, and each may, in turn, appoint different nominees to vote on behalf of those valuation units.

However, this scenario is very unlikely, Madam President, and it has to be balanced against the administrative unworkability of a scheme that pierces the corporate veil. It is certainly unhelpful to talk about hypothetical situations where a single person ‘owns’ 10 different companies.

Finally, contrary to what the Opposition may say, there is no ambiguity in the legislation. This Bill simply reflects a policy choice made by the Government, and one which is now before this Honourable Chamber.

Thank you, Madam President, and now I invite the participation of honourable colleagues.

-

The Municipalities Amendment No. 2 Bill is below [PDF here]

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Comments (37)

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  1. Loquatz says:

    Please sort of the C of H.

  2. Onion says:

    The PLP wanted to keep PRCs from voting now they want to keep business owners from voting in Hamilton.

    Why are the PLP so opposed to voting?

    • Unbelievable says:

      The PLP just will oppose anything or anyone that is not PLP. They believe only they have the right ideas on how to run Bermuda and anyone else is wrong.

      • Onion says:

        But why do they seem so fundamentally opposed to voting? Why don’t they want the people to have the right to vote?

    • Build a Better Bermuda says:

      Let’s look at what we are talking about, Corporation of Hamilton and Corporation of St. George’s… the key word here is Corporation. Corporations have investors… and in this case, the investors are the ratepayers, which in this case are both residential and business. Investors get to vote on matters of their corporations… the OBA has proposed to give all the ratepayers the vote for proportionate representation… equal representation, one ratepayer, one vote. Now matter how they splice it, the OBA has created an equal representation for the Corporations leadership.

    • Denice says:

      Just opposed to democracy as a whole.

  3. Slinky says:

    By way of the pic it looks like city hall is falling. Wait it’s actually true thanks to graham and his ace boys.

  4. Quinton Berkley Butterfield says:

    Interesting… apart from destroying the idea of “one man, one vote”, if the resident/business owner can “nominate” someone to “cast their business vote”, how do we know that they are not selling said vote to the highest bidder? This is a pretty badly written law….

    • hmmm says:

      Really, you think a resident who votes based on their residence who also owns a business will sell their vote ?

      That’s crazy talk… they could be shooting themselves in the foot.

    • Creamy says:

      How would you know a resident isn’t “selling his vote to the highest bidder”?

    • aceboy says:

      LOL

      You mean like offering coffee, sandwiches and a ride to the polling station to Salvation Army residents?

    • Common Sense says:

      I believe you may find that a person being nominated has to meet strict criteria. For example, in the case of a partnership, the person may need to be a partner. In the case of a limited liability company the person probably has to be an officer of the company. The only purpose of this provision is probably to allow one person, and one person only to vote even when their are multiple owners or directors.

  5. Sad says:

    Representation guaranteed for both sets of tax payers.

    Seems fair as all people who are required to fund the administration are represented.

    Much more fair than the two older electoral systems.

  6. Longtail says:

    Words from the past to haunt us….. hopefully we can all learn (and recover!) from the present debacle!

    Politely Pompous says:
    April 19, 2012
    Maybe Graeme Outerbridge can put some common sense back to the Co-operation of Hamilton cause they are doing some dumb things. Good luck!!

  7. I’m sorry, but you have “the cat by the tail” Senator Diallo Rabain. The individuals residing in these homes within City limits do get to vote but you’re claiming that the O.B.A. are bias and are “stacking the deck”:-( It’s wrong! How will it be justifiable if the property owner plus its resident/s get to vote using the same building number? Please get real bie’ it’s either the owner or the resident who get the one and only vote/s!

    • May I enlighten you to another fact.
      “”The living language is like a cow-path: it is the creation of the cows themselves, who, having created it, follow it or depart from it according to their whims or their needs. From daily use, the path undergoes change. A cow is under no obligation to stay.” -E.B. White, writer (1899-1985)

  8. Inquiring minds says:

    The PLP would have you believe this is a onesided event not true. With the parliamentary registers showing last time about 650 voters there in the city and I hear about 1200 ratepayers or so it will be a five to three division . If the current apartment projects complete in the next three years the next election would be a four to four split. With the business paying 98% of the tax it definetly I’ds biased toward the residents without disenfranchising the business. Not the boogeyman the PLP would have believe. But what the heck what does fact have to do with political speak.

  9. Silence Do Good says:

    Sen. Rabain and the PLP wants the property owners of residential units to vote then those individuals should register their property as a business venture and pay the additional business taxes. Surely, the landlords pass the municipal ARV property taxes on to the tenants in rents. I am sure the Corporations would welcome additional ratepayers from residential landlords. All of this from the party that wanted to take away the property vote now wants it back. Pick a position and stick with it.

    As for multiple votes for business owners, the way I read the Act you can only register once for a single vote as a corperation regardless of how many properties. If you are one of the luck individuals that own several distict and seperate corperations that are not subsidaries then yes you would get multiple votes via a nominee. Seem fair if you are paying several ARV taxes as seperate and distict businesses. I can’t image that there are many of these lucky individuals enough to affect the proportional representation or a vote for business councillors or mayor.

    It is important to note the the script is flipped when viewing St. George’s as mostly residential and few businesses. At least the business in St. George’s get two councillors to represent their interest. Hopefully, St. George’s will grow more businesses. The representation of interest in both municipalities seem to be more democratic than before.

    The PLP removed the municipal ARV taxes from St. George’s due to mostly being residential. Why pay the corperation for additional services when the residence already pay the Government ARV tax. They replaced the ARV with a under funded grant hence why the CoSG was hurting for so many years and a addition drain on the government’s current account. The PLP intention was to kill the municipalities one way or another and there actions spoke volumes.

    I am no fan of the OBA either.

  10. Marc Daniels says:

    What was actually argued by PLP Senators today is as follows:

    (1) Businesses should have the right to vote, as should landlords, as well as residents.

    (2) However, the principle that we advanced is that the voting should be limited to one person (landlord/legal entity) / one vote.

    As a business owner and ratepayer, I believe that I should have a right to vote in the City of Hamilton elections; however, if I held multiple properties within the City limits; or multiple business, as many Bermudians do, it would be wrong to allow me to utilize multiple votes over the residents, who have traditionally been marginalized, who only have one.

    The Corporation of Hamilton was created by an Act of Parliament in 1793 to create a new trade center from St. George’s in the center of the island. The Corporation was designed to serve the interests of the merchant class. However, if you note the date when the CoH was created, this was 100 years prior to the abolishment of slavery. The only real change to the power balance was created in 2010 under the PLP to permit residents the right to vote and participate in ensuring that their interests were also served with the same vigor as the businesses that occupy the City today.

    The residents’ power has been diminished today and effectively the deck has now been re-stacked to the days of old.

    Respectfully, it is unfair to suggest that the PLP are seeking to undermine business, or are anti-business.

    • Gingerbread man says:

      Ummmmmmm slavery was abolished in 1834, not 1893.

    • jt says:

      Did business owners get to vote in the last COH election? Who decided that? Was that progressive or a mistake? Don’t wash your hands of it so easily.

    • Onion says:

      You should tell that to some of your colleagues.

      What you’ve said in this post bears zero resemblance to what other PLP candidates and members are saying.

    • Onion says:

      Also, in 2010 the PLP conducted a mass disenfranchisement… and totally remove the power of the vast majority of those who have an interest in how Hamilton is run. To suggest otherwise is disingenuous.

    • WillSeee says:

      I own multiple properties and vote once.
      I am not allowed to vote twice nor nominate some one else for the other properties.

    • Frank Sense says:

      In 2009 the PLP actually proposed to take away everyone’s vote and wind up the municipalities operations into the appropriate government ministries. That was a statement given in Parliament and never rescinded.

    • Build a Better Bermuda says:

      If you are a person/entity with multiple properties, you only have one vote. If you are a person/entity with multiple businesses, provided each of those businesses are not tied to one another, then each business will get a vote as each business is an individual ratepayer. But then they will only be voting for business representation, not residential, so how will they marginalized the residential representation? The proportion of residential representation to business representation will be ratio’d by eligible voting people/entities and not by the votes being cast.

    • hmmm says:

      Talking nonsense Marc. If you own multiple properties you get one vote.

    • Build a Better Bermuda says:

      While this new legislation isn’t perfect, it is a large step ahead of the PLP legislation to creating equality in the voting process, and a step in the right direction. It is important to highlight that even in the countries general election process, it is entirely possible for a party to win an election with less than 50% of the popular vote, it hasn’t happened yet, but it can.

  11. Triangle Drifter says:

    Check another repair done on the PLP failed experiment sheet. Voting with taxation again instead of blatant stealing without representation.

    Bring on the May elections & restore sanity & dignity to the COH.

  12. Serious Though says:

    Bermuda is another world:
    Business vote vs resident vote
    The more commercial businesses building you own = number of votes
    If you own residential building = 1 vote

    So, the CIty of Hamilton belongs to this who owns commercial building in the city ?
    Talk about throne games , OBA
    Then, just say so

    • jt says:

      98% of taxes paid by…..?

    • inquiring minds says:

      Serious thought you should really read the actual documents and not the reported “information”. If you own more than one building you do not get more than one vote nor can you nominate anyone else for those buildings. Fact not Fiction.
      When you register for one of your buildings you will have to list all the other buildings you own in the city so that it can be confirmed and will eliminate the statement you made. If you own a residential building but do not live in the city yourself you do not get a vote. If you actually do the effort of your non de plume you would find this current method is biased for the minority group which in COSG is the business and in COH is the residents. So both groups are given the representation without disenfranchising anyone else. ( unlike the 2010 reform)

  13. Common Sense says:

    It is good to hear that the PLP now supports the principal of businesses having the right to vote in municipal elections. It is also quite fascinating to hear, according to Mr. Daniels that “the only real change to the power balance was created in 2010 under the PLP to permit residents the right to vote and participate in ensuring that their interests were also served with the same vigor as the businesses that occupy the City today.”

    Sadly, that was not the case at all. The owners of businesses, who were , and are, still paying some 98% of all City taxes, were completely stripped of any voting rights. The old adage of no taxation without representation was thrown out of the window.

    Ironically, it was the then COH who proposed amending the legislation to allow anyone who lived in the City of Hamilton the right to vote. Until that time the owner of a residential unit had the right to vote, and in the case of a house owned jointly by a husband and wife, they both had the right to vote. If they rented out residential units then one person per apartment (rental valuation unit) was entitled to vote. The then COH wanted to extend the franchise to include every member of every household living in the City. This would have extended the franchise without disenfranchising all those businesses in the City – from banks to beauticians – who were paying their taxes.

    The result of changes made under the PLP resulted in complete chaos, and the present Government is seeking to reach a compromise giving both residents and tax paying business owners reasonable voting rights.

    Yes, there are far more businesses in Hamilton than there are residences, but this new legislation ensures that City residents have a direct say in electing representatives to protect their interests. This is a positive and much needed step in the right direction.

    • aceboy says:

      Typical PLP double speak. They did REMOVE the vote of ratepayers….how they can plausibly deny this is beyond comprehension.

  14. Art says:

    Is there going to be a portrait of Mayor Outerbridge in City Hall?