Seeking to know
On Wednesday morning, nine days after the local government elections on October 21, I visited the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) website to get details of the numbers of people who had voted for the candidates of the different political parties. One of the things I wanted to do with the data was to calculate, for myself, how many aldermen should be allocated to the parties and, consequently, determine whether the allocations would reflect an accommodation of what have been called “minority parties’’ and “minorities’’ and, accordingly, suggest that proportional representation would be prosecuted in the councils of the municipalities. I came away disappointed.
There was some relevant data on the site but other data that I sought was not there. There was data on the candidates and their parties who had won electoral districts in the 14 municipalities, including a summary of how four of the parties had fared — 85 districts to the PNM, 44 to the UNC, three each to the COP and the ILP (subject to a recount in the district of Moruga in the municipality of Princes Town). There was data on the “total electorate’’, the “total votes cast’’, and the “voter turnout’’ —1,036,731, 451,179, and 43.52 per cent, respectively. There was a table on the allocation of aldermen to the parties, with the totals given as 36 for the PNM, 14 for the UNC, five for the ILP, and one for the COP.
But there was no data on, for example, the number of votes cast for each of those four parties in each of the different municipalities. Which is what I sought so that I could calculate, for myself, the allocation of aldermen to the parties and determine how proportional the representation would be in the different councils.
The press has already reported, of course, that, in the case of the municipality/borough of Chaguanas, two aldermen have been allocated to the ILP and one each to the UNC and the PNM, and it is reasonable to assume that they got their information from the EBC. But while the EBC may have the information (in both hard and soft copy, presumably) in their head office at Scott House, 134-138 Frederick Street, Port of Spain, they don’t have it on their website. Which is a shame in this day and age of easy digitisation of information, and given that they have a website for dissemination of important information for the public.
Of course, if the website does not have the information, I have the option of going into the head office and accessing it there. But you would agree that that would be inconvenient and unnecessarily burdensome. Why would I leave Belle Garden, or New Grange, or Toco, or Arouca to go to Port of Spain to get information on the number of votes cast for a party in a municipality?
It cannot be that the information is not available; the press has been publishing results of the election in bits and pieces since October 21, and the EBC is taken to be their original source. It cannot be that the information is classified; other like information is available on the site.
It cannot be that they want to make sure that the information is accurate before they publish it; they have published the total number of votes cast, so they must have the component figures. And it cannot be that they do not have enough staff to upload the information; it is not a lot of information we are talking about. No, it is more likely that they do not sufficiently respect our need to know. Nine days after the elections!
Now, why am I fretting like this? Well, you see, I opened my PDF copy of The Municipal Corporations Act, 2013 to read again what it says about the allocation of aldermen and, in particular, to apply to the state of affairs in Chaguanas the formula as illustrated in the example in the Eleventh Schedule. But without the figures, I could not go further than reacquainting myself with the formula. I am reduced therefore to using an hypothetical example.
The formula has three components: 1) calculation of quota, 2) calculation of aldermen (sic) allocation, and 3) calculation of allocation of remaining seats. So let’s apply it hypothetically to Chaguanas.
If there were three parties contesting Chaguanas and 20,000 valid votes were cast for them, the quota would be calculated as follows:
a) Total valid votes cast = 20,000
b) No. of seats in the Council
designated for aldermen = 4
Alderman quota = a divided by
b = 5,000.
Suppose the 20,000 votes were cast as follows: 10,003 for the PNM, 4,999 for the UNC, and 4,998 for the ILP, the PNM would get two aldermen (on the basis of satisfying the quota doubly [10003/5000 = 2.0]), and the UNC and the ILP would get none (on the basis of not satisfying the quota [4999/5000 = 0.9; 4998/5000 = 0.9]). (The formula discounts fractions.) How therefore would the remaining two aldermen be assigned?
Well, for each party, we must multiply the quota by the number of alderman seats earned (5,000 x 2 or 10,000 in the case of the PNM; 5,000 x 0 or 5,000 in the case of the others).
We must next, for each party, minus the votes cast for them from the figures calculated in the previous step (PNM: 10,003-10,000 = 3, UNC: 4,999-5,000 = -1, ILP: 4,998-5,000 = -2). Finally, we must allocate the 2 remaining aldermen among the parties (no more than one in any case, presumably), starting with the party with the highest remainder. Which means the PNM gets one more (based on its highest remainder of three), the UNC gets one (based on its second highest remainder of -1), and the ILP gets none since there are no more seats to allocate.
So in the final analysis, the PNM gets three aldermen and the UNC one.
The UNC, a major party in our political system, becomes a minority in terms of the alderman allocation system in respect of the Chaguanas votes. Which invites us to question the definition of “minority’’. And we all start wondering how three or -1 votes could entitle a party to an alderman seat and, more critically, how that represents proportional representation.
Just seeking to know.
• Winford James is a UWI lecturer and political analyst