Major changes to the voting system in next year's election will still leave rural parishes with greater influence, and St. Helier parishioners under represented, the town Constable has said.
St. Helier is already going to be short of States Members to represent them under the new system, according to Constable Simon Crowcroft, and he believes that the upcoming 2021 Census is likely to show that the problem is even worse.
Electoral reform was voted for in December by the States Assembly, which will see the current 17 voting districts condensed into nine ‘super constituencies’ in the 2022 elections, with St. Helier now being given 13 Deputies out of 37, as well as the Constable’s vote in the States Assembly.
However, speaking to Express, Constable Crowcroft said that, while the reforms were “a step in the right direction”, St. Helier would still be “two Members short,” which he claimed was "based on the fact that on the last census, there were roughly 18,000 people of voting age in St. Helier."
Pictured: Constable Crowcroft said he felt the parish should have 16 seats in the States Assembly.
Explaining the problems with St. Helier parishioners not being fairly represented, he explained: "When you’ve got States Members voting on the future of St. Helier, as you have in the Island Plan debate, you can have the Constable of St Mary voting down proposals that could make St. Helier a better place, and the injustice of that is quite clear to a St. Helier resident.”
He continued: “We have the census which is coming up in a week’s time, and once the census results are known, I think we’re going to see a worsening of the situation, because we know that the bulk of new housing units are being provided in St. Helier since the last census was taken 10 years ago.”
Addressing potential solutions, Constable Crowcroft said he believed Constables should have to fight a separate election to become Deputies and be able to vote in the States Chamber.
“The simple solution is to take away the automatic right of the Constables in the Chamber, so that the Constables would stand for election in their own parishes as Constable,” he said.
Pictured: The Constable said he thought the 2021 census could show an increasingly worse situation for St. Helier in terms of representation.
“Then they would fight a separate election to be one of the Deputies returned by the super constituencies or the district."
However, he acknowledge that "every time the public has been asked about removing the automatic right of the Constable, as has happened fairly recently in a referendum, they have voted to keep the Constables.”
60.41% of voters opted to keep Constables in the States Assembly in a 2014 referendum.
In December, Constable Len Norman suggested that only elected Deputies should sit in the States Assembly, but this idea was voted down.
Pictured: Constable Len Norman's amendment in December's reform debate to remove Constables from having an automatic seat in the States Assembly was rejected.
During that debate, the Chief Minister also highlighted his own concerns with scrapping Constables' legislative powers, asking: "How would some parishioners feel? Let us just say, for example, that the Constable of St. Clement was elected as the Constable of St. Clement but decided not to seek his place in the Assembly, but the Constable of Grouville was elected to the Assembly and also elected to the Government... I think you would have a very different situation where one Constable could exercise enormous influence over another Constable."
With this in mind, Constable Crowcroft suggested that an alternative could be turning Jersey into a “bicameral parliament” akin to the Isle of Man. This would see the Assembly split into two Chambers - one for elected Deputies and “an upper house” for Constables, which would prevent them from "distort[ing] the representation of Deputies" in the lower house.
He acknowledged that this could be a costly alternative, however, noting that “it would require a lot more officer support…the States would become a much more expensive institution than it is at the moment.”
Pictured: Constable Crowcroft emphasised that he did not think simply creating more Deputies in the Assembly was a valid solution.
However, though he is calling for change, he added that he did not think that the option of simply increasing the amount of deputies in the States Chamber would be a viable way forward.
“One could create voter equity by giving St. Helier a lot more Deputies, but I think you’re then going to get a parliament which is simply too big,” he said, adding that “the island doesn’t need a parliament of even its current size - I would like to see a smaller legislature.”
While Constable Crowcroft is a member of the Privileges and Procedures Commitee, which is responsible for overseeing the running of elections and the States Assembly, he said he would not be putting forward any proposals to change the current States Assembly set-up.
However, he said if the census results show a substantial increase in St. Helier’s population, he thinks calls will become louder for even stronger change.
“If it shows that the imbalance between voting in St. Helier and other parishes has got much worse, then I think there will be calls not just from me, but from other people, for Jersey to get itself in order and stop it being a gerrymandered island."
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