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.
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