Guernsey's 2020 election 'will be the strangest in the world'

St Peter Port, Guernsey Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The ballot paper will have about 100 candidates on it, with each person given 38 votes

The upcoming general election in the island of Guernsey will be "the strangest in the world", according to a political expert.

On 17 June, each voter will have 38 votes to spread among about 100 candidates, who will all be listed.

After scrapping district voting in a 2018 referendum, all 38 of the island's elected politicians will be chosen in one island-wide district.

"Without any real party system, this will be unique," said Adrian Lee.

"As far as I can determine, there's no other jurisdiction of this size trying to elect that many people at once using first-past-the-post," he added.

Because of the complexities of casting 38 votes, the election will take place over the course of four days rather than one, with postal voting offered on-demand.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Israel elects 120 people at once, but uses a party list system, making it a far simpler process

There are other countries that vote for all their representatives at once, effectively treating the country as one huge constituency.

Fiji elects 50 members across the island, Israel elects 120, and the people of Mozambique elect 250 members of their government as one district.

However, these jurisdictions have a party list system - the voters select a list of candidates who all belong to a single party.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mozambique elects 250 members at once, but also uses a party system

There have been several attempts to start building parties in Guernsey politics but the vast majority of candidates are expected to be independents.

There is now a process to register parties in Guernsey, with one organisation signing up so far.

'I probably won't read through 100 manifestos'

Guernsey resident Luc De La Mare, 23, said that while people "obviously weren't happy with the old system", he thought the election was going to be "a big hassle".

"I think most people won't bother reading all the manifestos and that will lead to uninformed decisions being made.

"Even as someone who's interested in local politics, I probably won't read through 100 manifestos - there's no way.

"We just don't know all the agendas of all these people that are standing," he added.

Image caption Guernsey resident Luc De La Mare said people would end up making uninformed decisions

Jackie Strachan, 56, said some politicians got "too complacent" in their own parishes, and island-wide voting would make it all a bit fairer.

"Everybody should have - if they're voted into office - the whole island as their remit, not just particular parishes.

"I think I will read a little bit of the manifestos and skim read it, but there are certain people that I will not be voting for this time, and others I want to keep in," she added.

Image caption Jackie Strachan said she would skim read the manifestos, would could number about 100

Deputy Neil Inder, president of the committee that has implemented the electoral changes, said Guernsey was "a small nation, but we're a very rich little island and we're well-educated".

"We've done very well under our quirky little system. I've got a lot more faith in the public of the island than is often trotted out by those who think island-wide voting won't work", he added.

Dr Lee, a former politics professor at Plymouth University, said the possibilities for things to go wrong when people were given 38 votes were "quite significant".

"Is anyone actually going to studiously read through more than 100 manifestos in a large booklet that's come through the letterbox?" he asked.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Tristan da Cunha, St Helena and the Falkland Islands have a similar system to Guernsey, but have far smaller populations and far fewer candidates

Is Guernsey really unique?

There are a few places, generally very small ones, that elect all their members in one go, and don't have parties.

This does make them directly comparable to Guernsey, although they're not on the same scale.

  • Pitcairn Islands: Located in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean, the 67 residents elect a mayor, a deputy mayor and five Executive Council members from across the islands
  • Falkland Islands: The 3,400-strong population elects eight members of the Legislative Assembly from across the overseas territory
  • St Helena: With a population just over 4,000, this South Atlantic island elects 12 members to its Legislative Council
  • Tristan da Cunha: Another island in the South Atlantic, the 256 residents elect 11 members of the Island Council and a chief islander
  • Ascension Island: The 880 people of Ascension Island elect either five or seven council members, depending on the number of candidates
  • Alderney: As part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey, the 2,000 residents of Alderney elect half of their 10 government members every two years
  • Sark: The picturesque island of Sark, which is also part of the Bailiwick, elects half of its 18-member Chief Pleas every 2 years

While the method of the elections may be similar, none of these jurisdictions vote in anywhere near 38 members at once, or have the scale of Guernsey's 62,000 population.

'Unknown territory'

"Research has shown that when given multiple votes, people don't use them all, but keeping track of whether you have used 38 or not is going to be difficult," said Mr Lee.

Any ballot paper with more than 38 people voted for would immediately become a spoilt paper.

"This really is unknown territory. No-one's really tried anything like this before in the modern era," he added.

And, according to Mr Lee, the absence of a party system would mean the 38 politicians voters did choose may not be able to turn their policies into reality.

Image copyright Getty
Image caption The islands of Sark and Alderney have similar electoral systems, but elect far fewer representatives

More on this story