Proxy votes, the Greens and questionable activities in Brighton

The Brighton & Hove News site reports:

A row has broken out over student votes after a Green campaign group started handing out proxy voting forms on Falmer campus.

The Students for Caroline campaign for the party’s Brighton Pavilion candidate Caroline Lucas is offering University of Sussex students the chance to sign proxy voting forms already filled in with the details of Green Party supporters.

The supporters would then be able to vote on students’ behalf in the national and local elections on May 7, when most will be back at home…

But the move was slammed by the local Labour party, which says proxy votes are intended to given to people they know and trust, not a stranger on a stall.

And it is concerned the proxy votes will be used in the local elections, which students are traditionally not as interested in, as well as the national…

However, a spokeswoman for Students for Caroline said proxy voting was a good solution for those who can’t vote in person or by post…

“We follow a code of practice which adheres to official Electoral Commission guidance and we check our campaigners are familiar with it.”

Here’s what that official Electoral Commission guidance (the Code of Conduct for Campaigners) says:

Electors should be encouraged to explore other options for people to act as a proxy – including relatives or neighbours, for example – before a campaigner agrees to be appointed as a proxy.

To minimise the risk of suspicions that campaigners may be seeking to place undue pressure on electors, electors should not be encouraged to appoint a campaigner as their proxy.

If the report is accurate, and people were indeed given proxy forms pre-completed with the names of Green Party activists, then it is hard to see how that wouldn’t be a breach of the stricture that “electors should not be encouraged to appoint a campaigner as their proxy”.

I’ve asked the Electoral Commission for their comment on this case and will follow up the story when I have it.

UPDATE: The Electoral Commission has condemned the Green Party’s actions: “An Electoral Commission spokesperson said: ‘Our non-statutory code of conduct says voters should not be encouraged to appoint a campaigner as a proxy to minimise the risk of suspicions that campaigners are placing undue pressure on voters. We have been in contact with the Green Party to make clear that this is not acceptable campaigning behaviour. They have now stopped these activities and we will continue monitoring to make sure there is no repeat.’” See more here.

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