Saturday, 23 April 2011

Legal Postal or Proxy Voting .... the rules!

I picked up Labour’s potential involvement in a postal voting scam in a post on the Iain Gray’s latest calumny thread today on Newsnet – at first I laughed to myself at the ludicrous lengths it appears Labour are going to, to save their necks, Then the process developer and assurance auditor in me started wondering just what is the process for a postal or proxy vote.

Here is a potted prĂ©cis of what the Representation of the People Act (s) and Scottish Statute has to say on the matter – I have used the Scottish Local Government version but it merely reflects the requirements of the 1983 Act it refers to:

15 - Offences relating to applications for postal and proxy votes
Before section 63 of the 1983 Act (breach of official duty) insert—
“62BScottish local government elections: offences relating to applications for postal and proxy votes
(1)This section applies in relation to a local government election in Scotland.
(2)A person commits an offence if he—
(a)engages in any of the acts specified in subsection (3) below at the election; and
(b)intends, by doing so, to deprive another of an opportunity to vote or to make for himself or another a gain of a vote to which he or the other is not otherwise entitled or a gain of money or property.
(3)The acts referred to in subsection (2)(a) above are—
(a)applying for a postal or proxy vote as some other person (whether that other person is living or dead or is a fictitious person);
(b)otherwise making a false statement in, or in connection with, an application for a postal or proxy vote;
(c)inducing the registration officer or returning officer to send a postal ballot paper or any communication relating to a postal or proxy vote to an address which has not been agreed to by the person entitled to the vote;
(d)causing a communication relating to a postal or proxy vote or containing a postal ballot paper not to be delivered to the intended recipient.
Now let’s see how that compares with what the poster said:

“Off Topic,

Just received our postal vote application forms through the post, courtesy of .......LABOUR.

Funny thing is though I have NO recollection of EVER asking for a postal vote application form. I guess it must be Labour out to do some their dirty tricks in Dumfries and Galloway!

Nice to know though that they care enough to help us get a postal vote. I see the return address for the postal vote application is to Labour in ....... GLASGOW. Now I am not usually one to be suspicious however.........”

So immediately I would assess that the postal vote system is being abused as the receipt by this poster of a postal vote application form is an offence under 3 section ‘c’; as this is clearly an inducement to the returning officer by a candidate or their supporters to send such an application to an address which has not requested it.

The regulation carries on and says:

“(4)In subsection (2)(b) above, property includes any description of property.
(5)In subsection (3) above a reference to a postal vote or a postal ballot paper includes a reference to a proxy postal vote or a proxy postal ballot paper (as the case may be).
(6)A person who commits an offence under subsection (2) above or who aids, abets, counsels or procures the commission of such an offence is guilty of a corrupt practice.”

So application of the law in this case must immediately call into question all the Labour candidates right to stand in the South of Scotland List and the candidate in Dumfries and Galloway related to this poster’s specific constituency.

Now we know what happens when candidates are found in law to be in breech of the Representation of the People Act in word, deed or practice they are disqualified from ever standing again - which the recent precedent down South so ably determined and as Phil Woollas found out to his chagrin in Oldham East.
If you check the Electoral Commission web site you discover that postal and proxy voting forms must be returned to your local returning officer at a specified address. In Dumfries and Galloway that address is:

Dumfries and Galloway Council
27 Moffat Road

And not Glasgow as the poster stated.

“13CAScottish local government elections: false information in connection with applications for absent voting
(1)A person who provides false information in connection with an application mentioned in subsection (2) below commits an offence.
 (3)In relation to a signature, “false information” for the purposes of subsection (1) above means a signature which—
(a)is not the usual signature of; or
(b)was written by a person other than,
the person whose signature it purports to be.
(4)A person does not commit an offence under subsection (1) above if the person did not know, and had no reason to suspect, that the information was false.
(5)Where sufficient evidence is adduced to raise an issue with respect to the defence under subsection (4) above, the court must assume that the defence is satisfied unless the prosecutor proves beyond reasonable doubt that it is not.
(6)A person guilty of an offence under subsection (1) above is liable on summary conviction to (either or both)—
(a)imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months;
(b)a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.”.

So again, any proxy or postal voting form opened and altered in any way by those at the address in Glasgow leaves them and their candidates open to criminal action as described at section 6 - not forgetting that according to the Electoral Commission those votes should go no where else than direct to the returning officer.

The recent cases relating to Postal vote fraud have found that:

...  where Ballot papers have been collected from voters with the promise they will be delivered to the Electoral Returning Officer. The true vote is then tippexed out and a new cross entered against another candidate before delivery of the vote. The Electoral Returning Officer has, by law, to accept this vote even though he may suspect it is doctored.”

In a recent judgement of Postal Voting Fraud a justice said:

".... official Government statement about postal voting which I hope I quote correctly, 'There are no proposals to change the rules governing election procedures for the next election, including those for postal voting. The systems already in place to deal with the allegations of electoral fraud are clearly working.' "

"Anybody who has sat through the case I have just tried and listened to evidence of electoral fraud that would disgrace a banana republic would find this statement surprising."
"To assert that 'the systems already in place to deal with the allegations of electoral fraud are clearly working' indicates a state not simply of complacency but of denial."

"The systems to deal with fraud are not working well. They are not working badly. The fact is that there are no systems to deal realistically with fraud and there never have been. Until there are, fraud will continue unabated."

I now wait to hear what the Returning Officer for Dumfries and Galloway has to say on this matter with great interest and I hope that the Officer comes down with a heavy hand on this attempt or any attempt to gerrymander votes for what ever party.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Peter,

    Sorry for being so long in replying to this thread (it is now the end of May - but at least it is still 2011).

    I have been amazed that the Labour vote in Scotland appears to have stood up so well under the circumstances. On cursory examination it seems that the rise in the SNP vote was due almost entirely to concomitant falls in the Tory and especially the Lib/Dem and minor parties' votes while the Labour core vote seemed to remain remarkably undiminished - a situation I find hard to believe from anecdotes.

    I wonder how much this apparent stability of the Labour vote has been due to the postal voting "irregularities" discussed in the article? Also in the cities, Labour has a historical reputation for arranging the "stuffing" of ballot boxes, however such statements have to be regarded as gossip only as proof is virtually impossible to obtain. The suspicion that it occurs however remains even though it would require corruption on the part of polling clerks which I and most others find difficult to envisage.

    I wonder to what extent the current reforms to the voting system under consideration in Westminster will alleviate these concerns?, as to undermine the voting system itself should be considered a major crime in my view.