21 April 2012

"The candidate is ... um ... wooden".

"The candidate is wooden. We fear he's a dummy.  His public speaking skills aren't up to much, and doesn't he have such unnatural, cold, hard hands?" "That's nothing.  Have you looked into his eyes? Dead, they are. I've seen livelier corpses in my puff." "Do you mind that woman we doorstepped last week who asked him what he thought about local services? Untwitching, his featureless face didn't move an inch. He just sort of... looked at her.  I had to carry the useless so-and-so out of there on my own back..."

Familiar worries for election agents, introducing their less than expressive, charismatic or socially confident charges to the electorate.  In the Aberdeen city council race, however, it seems an independent candidate for Hazlehead, Ashley and Queen's Cross - Helena Torry - has more a compelling excuse than the flabby, wan wheyfaced parade of bad suits running for office. As the council's returning officer philosophically put it...

"It has been brought to my attention that Helena Torry, for whom a nomination paper was submitted for the Hazlehead, Ashley and Queens Cross ward, does not exist."

A rather harsh conclusion one might have thought, given the photographic evidence conclusively proving that Helena Torry - "the voice of the silent majority" - can at least make a reasonable claim to material reality.  Certainly, her joints disclose a certain stiffness, but the candidate clearly has an idiosyncratic interest in fashion, showing a particular proclivity for canvass hats, pairing bright colours and diaphanous floral numbers with gay abandon.  To the drab council palette of the two-piece suit and careful tie, Torry's wardrobe offers a multicoloured rebuke. 

Such disruption to conventional fashion is rarely tolerated by the powers that be, however, and just as her political career was getting going, it is understood that Helena Torry has been taken into police custody and her election agent - Renée Slater - charged with offences under the Representation of the People Act 1983. Suffering from the stiffening condition popularly known as "dummy's elbow", and wanting effectively opposable thumbs, it is not known how Ms Torry was able successfully to submit her nomination papers, in which she is required by law to give her name, address, and an indication she consented to be nominated to run in the local election.

Since proceedings are now active for the purposes of the Contempt of Court Act, there is a limit to what one can say.  Always keen to give you all the legal angle on the great political controversies of our time, we can, however, discuss hypothetical forms of electoral jiggerypokery, criminalised under the statute Grampian police indicate Torry's designated election agent has been charged under, and the maximum penalties anyone found guilty under the Act might face.  

Say I was running for council office in the north west, but was disqualified and didn't disclose it - or I fibbed about my address - or falsified my identity altogether, purporting to be none other than the Kinlochbervie Chronicle's Ecclefechan Mackay (MA) (thereby, incidentally, also misrepresenting my qualifications). What then? What if, to humiliate a rival using a particularly queer device, I nominated them to stand for office without their knowledge, forcing them either to campaign to save face, or to fail disastrously, no doubt affording me devilish glee? The Representation of the People Act 1983 provides that:

65 Tampering with nomination papers, ballot papers, etc.

(2) In Scotland, a person shall be guilty of an offence if—
(a) at a parliamentary or local government election, he forges any nomination paper, delivers to the returning officer any nomination paper knowing it to be forged, or forges or counterfeits any ballot paper or the official mark on any ballot paper; or
(b) at a local government election, he signs any nomination paper as candidate or in any other capacity certifies the truth of any statement contained in it, knowing such statement to be false; or
(c) he fraudulently or without due authority, as the case may be, attempts to do any of the foregoing acts.

And the penalties? Interestingly, those depend on the identity of the fraudster or tamperer.  Election officials who are dishonestly compromised get handily shellacked in the statute, subject to pretty severe penalties - and quite right too:

(3) If a returning officer, a presiding officer or a clerk appointed to assist in taking the poll, counting the votes or assisting at the proceedings in connection with the issue or receipt of postal ballot papers is guilty of an offence under this section, he shall be liable—
(a) on conviction on indictment to a fine, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years, or to both;
(b) on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or to both.

But what of your common-or-garden cheater or fiddler, who committed any of the acts I gave in my example, embroidering their nomination papers with fibs? What price their swindling of election officials? The 1983 Act again:

(4) If any other person is guilty of an offence under this section, he shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or to both.

Under the current dispensation, that amounts to a maximum imposable fine of £5,000, and effectively (given automatic early release), a quarter year spell in chokey.  Happily, however, "not existing" can be an exceedingly effective defence to any prosecution.  While the unhappy voters of Hazlehead, Ashley and Queen's Cross will be deprived of Helena Torry's candidacy, it is a fair bet that the dear lady will herself escape from this unhappy incident, with her escutcheon unblemished and her criminal record clear.

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