Undue Influence is a corrupt practice

The BBC have a brief report that the Electoral Office is investigating the claim:

staff at Sam Gardiner’s office allegedly refused to assist constituents because they had not voted in the Assembly election

This seems to relate to use of the Marked Register, a copy of the register from polling stations showing who was issued with a ballot paper, which was subject to an Electoral Office report in 2005.

The Electoral Office report notes:

We are instructed that political parties purchase data copies of the Marked Register, and then run this information against their own data bases (eg of members, those who have promised support), in order to work out who to target for canvassing and other purposes. Over time, they are able to build up records which may assist them in ‘profiling’ voters who are likely to vote, if encouraged to do so.

On a slightly different area it states:

We are instructed that there is no evidence, save anecdotal evidence, from electoral pilot schemes in 2003, of any intimidation or harassment arising as a direct result of lists which show whether or not each individual has returned a ballot paper being supplied to candidates prior to the close of poll; but the risk is nonetheless real. The supply of such data certainly facilitates the possible commission of the offence of undue influence contrary to s.115 RPA 1983.

Which brings us to the offence that Sam Gardiner and staff may end up defending themselves on:

115 Undue influence.

(1)A person shall be guilty of a corrupt practice if he is guilty of undue influence.

(2)A person shall be guilty of undue influence—

(a)if he, directly or indirectly, by himself or by any other person on his behalf, makes use of or threatens to make use of any force, violence or restraint, or inflicts or threatens to inflict, by himself or by any other person, any temporal or spiritual injury, damage, harm or loss upon or against any person in order to induce or compel that person to vote or refrain from voting, or on account of that person having voted or refrained from voting

While the BBC report says Gardiner has described both incidents as a ‘mistake’, they could be expensive ones –Penalty: up to one year in prison on indictment and/or an unlimited fine.

A Portadown Times report reveals he used this tactic when dealing with people fighting to save their jobs and may be one of the incidences under investigation.

Mr Gardiner’s personally-signed reply which stated, “I personally am very concerned about this change-over, but disappointed to learn that our records that you did not make an effort to vote at the last election.”

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  • I have to agree.
    One of the saving graces of the “system” is that elected politicians do generally take seriously their role in representing all of their constituents. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence of people getting help…….quite properly….from unlikely sources.
    Any politician refusing to help a constituent….frankly cannot be dismissed as a mistake. It can be argued that multi-member constituencies undermine the relationship between the Elected and the Electorate. But this is a much different issue.
    The UUP in Upper Bann dont strike me as “happy bunnies” and Gardiner has always seemed “semi detached”.

    The use of data gained……I think is a very seperate issue.
    And I think relatively harmless.
    Its all about targetting. And I dont see much harm in a Party knowing that a person who voted for them last time, hasnt voted this time. Or that a Doubter on Canvass night has shown up after all.

    People can be much too purist. I live in a place which will only ever be visited by Sinn Féin and SDLP. I will happily lie to any person who asks me how I will vote.
    If I told the truth, Id have to believe opinion polls and census results..
    I always tell the canvasser that I voted for their Party last time…….but cant do so this time.
    Its the answer that they hate most.
    No harm done.

  • iluvni

    “Its all about targetting.”

    hmmmm

  • Cynic2

    He certainly knows how to win over non-voters for the next time.

    No wonder UUP is in the state it’s in

  • Billy Ghoti

    fitzjameshorse writes:

    “And I dont see much harm in a Party knowing that a person who voted for them last time, hasnt voted this time”

    I thought it was a secret ballot? That no one would know how I voted?

  • Mark McGregor

    There is no claim anyone knows how people vote but as the Commission report notes:

    Our view is that the ‘secrecy of the ballot’ does not go so far as to maintain the secrecy of the fact of having voted. It cannot be a secret that a ballot paper has been issued to a person – that is an act which takes place in public

  • Comrade Stalin

    This is a party slowly committing suicide. Non-voters pay Mr Gardiner’s wages and expenses just the same as the voters do.

    It’s a scary hark back to the days when his party ran the country to the exclusion of the people who did not vote for it, and it is sadly symptomatic of a party which still takes the votes it receives for granted to such an extent that it is willing to blow away potential future voters.

  • Sorry: not getting heavily involved in this one.

    One is elected to a constituency, not to just one’s electors.

    What disgusts me here is the sale of “marked registers” — especially in Northern Ireland (where, uniquely and sadly, it’s a matter of quick cross-reference). Since when has this been an established practice — when we had to make our own — or thieve those of the opposition?

    Thank goodness (and my sense of personal honour) such low-life stuff didn’t happen in my patch and time. Whoever, in their right mind thought this was a good idea?

  • Addition to @ 10:03 pm:

    Let me add a taste of whom we speak (with
    thanks to wikipedia): Samuel Gardiner MBE JP MLA, Mayor of Craigavon 1982/3, 1988/9 and 2000/1, High Sheriff for County Armagh, deputy Sovereign Grand Master of the Royal Black Institution and former chairman of Glenavon F.C.

    Or, as the late, great John Junor had it: “Pass the sick bag, Alice.”

  • aquifer

    I presume having an automatic pistol and people prepared to use it would be ‘undue influence’.

    Could we then see the alphabet soup of paramilitary detritus prosecuted under electoral law?

    One man one vote has to mean something after all.

  • Eglise en bois

    Malcolm,

    And like many of our esteemed MLAs, he can be thoroughly obnoxious, if you ever had to deal with him.

    So while he blames this “misunderstanding” on a mistake, the old saying:

    to get it wrong once – is a mistake
    to get it wrong a second time – stupidity
    to get it wrong a third time – criminal

    seems appropriate! We wait and see!

  • Local hack

    Knowing Sam as I do – a thoroughly nice guy outside of the electoral arena – I can see him taking an opinion well they didn’t help us, so why help them. But then again it could all be a misunderstanding.

    But then is there not something that needs to be said about people complaining to an MLA about something when they couldn’t take the time to vote?

    Voting is one of those rights, that should be exercised by all – even spoiling your vote is making a statement.

    While I don’t agree with people checking registers to see who voted.

    It remains the case if is more likely you are going to come acorss someone who didn’t vote than did and that should be a matter that should shame everyone.

  • separatesix

    I realize the MLA is innocent of all these claims, but I believe if someone hasn’t bothered to vote they forfeit the right to be able to use an MLA’s services.

  • separatesix @ 10:31 am:

    That must qualify as one of the worst definitions of democracy on record.

    Start at the other end —

    Do we believe in the secret ballot?

    Then, consider that in NI we have a segregated (by tribe, by religion, by education, by locality) population. Once an individual’s name, school and residence is known, it is possible to infer much, much more.

    Now let’s continue.

    Selling the marked registers, in that context, should be criminal. It points the finger, and (in the none-too-distant past) could cock the trigger, prime the bomb.

    Let’s focus in

    The story is that Gardiner’s office refused help, not the man himself — though the instruction came from somewhere, if not from blind prejudice.

    That office (like Gardiner himself) is funded by the general public, not just by voters, not just by Gardiner’s loyal fans — to the tune of £72,481.63 in the latest available year to March 2011.

    Some ethics

    No elected representative should ever, ever be so arrogant as to take to himself/herself the “right” to refuse a reasonable request from whoever, for advice, assistance, help. Every individual has the right — the right — to expect an elected representative will represent. No more should a medic should betray the Hippocratic Oath Or a lawyer should reject a client on ethnic, religious or other grounds. Even when a barrister is convinced of the accused’s guilt, his/her only-allowable and ethical response is “That is a question for the prosecution, my Lord.”.

    A final thought

    I’ll just add just this: I hear that Ian Paisley, whose politics I have chronically detested, never turned away a suppliant, whatever his/her persuasion and voting record.

  • Neil

    Choosing not to vote is a democratic right. Why should the disenfranchised be forced to confirm non existent engagement.

    Put another way, imagine yourself as a Unionist in a Republican village. Should you be denied your rights to assistance because you decided there was no one on the ballot that was suitable for you? Or should you be forced to vote for people you despise?

    If people think politics here is pointless – that is their right. As Malcolm says, Paisley had a reputation in (my hometown) Ballymena of helping many Catholic people get housing etc. I personally can confirm that as being 100% true through a family member.

  • Mike the First

    On a related note, does anyone remember those utterly stupid adverts from a couple of years ago on NI electoral registration which stated, “Lose your vote, lose your voice”? Complete with footage of people with their mouths taped up.

    They seemed to be suggesting that it you “lost your vote”, you would have no capacity to contact an elected representative, provide feedback on public services, file a complaint to government, etc. Which was utter nonsense – if you “lose your vote”, well, you don’t get to vote. Which is the democratic voice of the people, but it sure as hell doesn’t mean you have no “voice” with regards to public services for the next X number of years.

    Perhaps Sam Gardiner was watching these ads…?

  • separatesix

    Mr Redfellow your comment surprises me as I’d have imagined that a person using slugger would be encouraging people to vote.

  • Several thousand children did not vote in the election in Upper Bann; using Mr Gardiner’s logic they should not be represented.

  • separatesix @ 1:35 pm:

    Do expatiate, please, on how that comment in any way relates to what went before.

  • Reader

    Mike the First: They seemed to be suggesting that it you “lost your vote”, you would have no capacity to contact an elected representative, provide feedback on public services, file a complaint to government, etc.
    I didn’t perceive any of that. Actually, I thought that the TV version made their point fairly clear – that there was no point whinging *about* what politicians did if you hadn’t done your bit to put them in / keep them out. Since barstool whinging is a major local activity, and probably more common than voting, I thought it was a fair enough point.