Monday, 14 November 2011

L'√Čtranger - Face in the mud

How did an Englishman, the outsider, get elected as Chief Minister? How did Bailhache, the JEP favourite and "Patriot", fall at the last hurdle? He said all the right things, he had the JEP to run his campaign, he topped the poll in the election and yet the laurels of victory were denied. The vote was close – 24 to 27. So, I can’t pick the winner even in a two horse race. 

I understand the existential dilemma that one Deputy faced when he said the choice was between John Major and Margaret Thatcher. I myself wished Senator Gorst good luck moments before he went into the States Chamber for the Chief Minister vote. I meant it.  Now that he is elected I can say that I am genuinely relieved by the outcome. Gorst strikes me as a straight Tory, rightwing, but straight. In the land of crooked government, where the “Old Corruption” is rife, that is a blessing. No more cover ups? Let’s hope so.

Gorst has a social conscience I assume. There is the Christian thing which he takes seriously. Having been social security Minister, he probably genuinely has some awareness of the polarised society that Jersey is becoming and the existence of poverty. The policies he ultimately pursues may reflect these concerns. Perhaps he will encourage diversification of the economy, create jobs and address unemployment. Whilst the affairs of state floundered under Senator Terry Le Sueur, the new incumbent is well aware that action by government is necessary on a whole range of pressing issues.

I'll huff and i'll puff and i'll blow your house down

Ultimately Jersey’s rulers have no real options – it’s a rudderless ship in turbulent seas – so it makes no real difference to the final outcome as to which personality rules. Bailhache said it all with his set piece answer on the collapse of fulfillment; a planted question by Senator Ozouf. He could only but fulminate against the British government for a purely political act designed to appease domestic small business interests whose gripe was really with the internet and not with the Channel Islands. These sudden changes came in defiance of a memorandum of understanding in place ten years that made fulfillment “neither illegal nor immoral”. The sad reality is that by April next year fulfillment will be closed and the redundancy notices going out before Christmas. None will admit, but its the sacrificial lamb whilst the real game continues.

I was asked in advance by a visiting German TV crew what my reaction would be if Philip Bailhache were to be elected, to which I replied “Its Berlin 1933”. They smiled. It was rhetorical of course, but they knew what I meant.

One of the benefits of Deputy Trevor Pitman’s successful proposition on the vote for Chief Minister is that we get to see which way States Members voted. No cover up and secrecy, just accountability and public awareness. Needless to say, our “other Deputy” in St Helier No.1, James Baker, voted for Bailhache, just as he said he would at the Hustings. Curiously, his sponsor, Senator Routier, voted for the other candidate. Were they hedging their bets in No.1?

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

District No.1 Election RECOUNTED – No Regrets

The integrity of the count in the District No.1 election was confirmed today following a recount. An application by Deputy Paul Le Claire before the Royal Court this morning was granted after lunch at 2.30pm with the recount conducted immediately thereafter in the Town Hall.

The Court heard representations from Deputy Le Claire, the Attorney General and the candidates. I suspect that what made the difference was an Affidavit I prepared setting out a number of anomalies and perceived sloppiness on the part of counters on the night. My arguments added flesh and muscle to give Deputy Le Claire’s application some substance. I suspect that without my observations there would not have been sufficient “grounds” for a recount. There is no automatic right to a recount by a candidate or other party under the Jersey law. It remains in the discretion of the Autorise/Jurat conducting the count on the night. The Royal Court gave its decision today with written reasons to follow in due course.

One likely reform that will come out of the Application will be in the way the result of the vote is announced.  This will probably change to follow the UK model whereby the Returning Officer discloses the result in private to the candidates, enabling them to raise queries or request a recount, before a formal public announcement. This was the only issue of real substance in support of Deputy Le Claire's action. He claimed the result had come as a complete shock to him, given that he had topped the poll in two previous elections, he did not have the presence of mind to request a recount. The margin of difference between Deputy Le Claire and Deputy Judy Martin was 17 votes.

Needless to say, Deputy Martin is much relieved by the final outcome and as he embarks on a new career, Paul Le Claire will not have to live with the thought “What if I had never asked?”

Below is an interview I conducted once it was clear the result of the election would be unchanged.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

ELECTION RECOUNT! – District 1 St Helier election results to be recounted by Royal Court

Deputy Paul Le Claire has submitted an application to the Royal Court for a recount of the votes cast in the District No.1 St Helier election held on 19th October, at which he “just missed out” by 17 votes to Deputy Judy Martin. The Royal Court will hear the matter on Tuesday 8th November at 10 a.m. Candidates may attend if they wish. I shall be there and intend to speak.

As stated in his Affidavit in support of the application, Deputy Le Claire believes “the count may have been inaccurate and given the small number of votes between me and the next candidate [Judy Martin], even a small discrepancy could make a significant difference to the final result.”

He further states that following the announcement of the results on the night in the Town Hall he went into a state of shock and did not have the requisite presence of mind to call for an immediate recount.

He complains that the Jurat in charge did not offer a recount and did not mention the number of postal votes or pre poll votes.

A recount is unlikely to save Deputy Le Claire’s career. Some will present it as a last desperate act. I have no objection to a recount as it will hopefully verify aspects of the counting that I was personally not able or allowed to witness at the count.

“Its not who casts the votes, but who counts them” (old Irish saying)

I was the only candidate to be present during the poll and at the count. I have often criticized candidates for their lack of concern about the mechanism by which the result is arrived at. None of the other seven candidates cared to be present at the count or to appoint an agent on their behalf.

I was told by the Jurat that there were 15 postal votes, of which there were 2 spoilt and 286 pre-poll ballots. It was announced that 1810 people voted out of 5059 on the electoral register giving a 36.09% turnout. 18 ballots were deemed spoilt.

I was not shown the eighteen spoilt ballot papers, of which two were presumably discounted postal votes. I was shown one ballot paper which had scrawled across its face the words “none of the above”.

Initial check

The initial check taken on the evening was to open separately the ballot boxes for the Senatorial and Deputy elections in District 1 and remove any ballots [Senatorial – white; Deputies – yellow] that may have been placed in the wrong box. This ensured that all ballots were in the correct boxes ready for counting.

The Deputies’ ballot box was emptied for a second time and the count begun. Counters took wads of 25 ballots and with a partner began the count, recording the result on a designated counting sheet.

Pairs of counters counting 25 ballots

I was able to observe three separate pairs of counters and mistakes were made in my presence. One couple got confused in the counting and votes were not accurately recorded on the sheet, resulting in a new sheet having to be started.  The same pair also had to add a new totaling line to the sheet because they had mis-recorded the votes of one ballot and in making corrections made the column illegible.

I personally saw one spoilt ballot where the voter had used four votes instead of the maximum number of three. This ballot was removed to the Jurat and a replacement given to the counters to make up their 25. Ticks instead of crosses were deemed acceptable, as the intention was clear.

One counter complained to me that my presence was putting her off, to which I replied it was precisely why I was there and to witness if errors were made.

As the counter with ballot called out the name of the candidate/s that had received a vote, the partner marked the record sheet with a diagonal mark against that individual’s name. The process was then reversed with the previous counter calling out the names and the partner completing a further diagonal mark on the sheet to make a cross. This was repeated for each of the 25 ballots. This meant there was a double check. The number of votes cast for each candidate was totaled and tallied on the counting sheet.

The counting sheet with the ballots wrapped inside was then taken away to the Jurat for tallying. This was done by a computer operator on a spread sheet.