Thursday, 5 February 2009

Geoff Southern to be charged

Because he assisted Parishioners in getting postal vote applications (and perhaps explaining how to complete them), Deputy Geoff Southern is to be charged with breaking the election law today. This is from the Deputy himself, who was being interviewed on BBC Radio Jersey around 7.15 this morning, and said "I fully expect to be charged later today."

I did not have time to hear his defense, but I suspect that part of his reason was that there was no one official appointed to help people fill in postal applications, or go around asking people if they wanted to apply for postal applications. This was a case of discrimination by neglect, disenfranchising those people who are informed by the States that they can apply, and then left to get on with it - knowing of course that is in itself an obstacle.

In the UK, of course, there are no rules on stopping campaigners and canvassers helping with either the registration or the submission of postal votes. What is the case is that it is an offence to complete a postal vote that is not your own, and to influence how others complete their postal vote. If you have any allegations of fraud, they should be referred to the police.

I suspect that the argument of "undue influence" will be the main one made against Geoff Southern. What we are certainly not going to see is UK style fraud:

The court has heard that the elections were subverted by threats, intimidation and the wholesale theft of postal votes, with thousands of others being diverted to "safe houses" where the ballots were allegedly filled in on an "industrial scale". Bags full of voting papers are alleged to have changed hands in the streets; a postman is said to have been threatened with death.

Some people, particularly the elderly, may not find applying for forms and completing them easy, and if the States are not going to address this issue, then while technically breaking the law, Geoff Southern is highlighting a serious weakness in the system. The recently leaked report on Income Support shows how a bureaucratic culture of forms may not engage well with the people it seeks to help. What may seem simple to a civil servant may seem a Byzantine labyrinth of complexity to someone elderly, or who comes from a different country, and whose English is poor. While I would not condone Geoff Southern's actions, it seems to me that the Jersey system has deficiencies which those examining this case would do well to address.



Captain Fantastic said...

Come on there are enough charities, welfare groups and do gooders in this Island to help people to cast their vote.
I will admit the process does need improving and this should be looked into, but Deputy Southern has the position and the authority to sort this out rather ask for pity when caught in the act, he should do the honorable thing and resign, but I bet he will not.
This is a disgrace and abuse of position.

TonyTheProf said...

In theory yes, in practice no. I'd like any individual who was not affiliated to a candidate to come forward. Otherwise, a hypthathetical helper is no helper.

I'd like to see some honourable politicians too. Didn't Philip Ozouf promise a freeze on 20 means 20 if he got in?

Anonymous said...

Surely the point is the anomaly that you can in the middle of King St. complete a form for voter registration with the assistance of people who may stand for the States, but if they help you (carry out exactly the same process) with requesting a form to vote by post it is an offence?

The Law is an ass, would like to see what would happen if they tried to prosecute this case in the UK, my guess is that it would be laughed out of court.

But in Jersey the whole system is stiched up by two related upper class twits in the highest positions within the judiciary who do all in their considerable power to assist the establishment.

Miscarriage of justice or what?

TonyTheProf said...

I think it really comes down to whether it is permissable to break a bad law or not. Obviously, if he can show it is not human rights compliant, he has got a good case. He can also argue on humanitarian grounds - people with arthritic hands needing help. What there should have been was a phone number he could have called on behalf of these people, so that someone would come round and get it sorted for them. Without that kind of mechanism, the law - which appears to be a last minute pre-election amendment - would seem to be directed against politicians who want to help people to manage to vote (however they vote). If you know of any such mechanism, please add the details here.