While campaigns ramp up efforts to attract voters, the Elections Office and police are urging caution regarding candidates’ claims while canvassing for support.
The warning comes as accusations of vote buying have circulated unverified in the community.
However, both Elections Supervisor Wesley Howell and RCIPS Chief Inspector Patrick Beersingh confirmed there have not been any formal reports of “vote buying or of people soliciting money from candidates, nor have we received information of such activity”, Beersingh told the Cayman Compass via email.
He heads up a special team of investigators focussed on dealing with election-related offences.
Howell said his office had reached out to the Director of Public Prosecutions “proactively before we got into the season to ensure that we understand where that bar is in relation to the evidence threshold”.
He added that he had reached out to a candidate who had publicly made claims that cash was being handed out to voters, but they have not submitted a formal report.
“Firstly, if you have information or knowledge of people soliciting money from candidates, or of vote buying, please report the matter to the police immediately,” Beersingh said.
“Soliciting money from political candidates in exchange for voting or not voting for a candidate in an election is an offence under section 95 of the Elections Act of 2021.”
Howell also cautioned candidates against giving gifts during this period.
“We are aware through social media and others, that many of the candidates were donating and giving things to schoolchildren, and otherwise leading up to Nomination Day.
But the legislation criteria for treating and gift giving between Nomination and Election Day is quite different than it is outside of that season,” he said, as he advised candidates to familiarise themselves with the law.
Howell stressed it’s not only a candidate’s responsibility, but a voter’s as well. What the law says the Elections Act (2021 Revision) outlines offences relating to bribery, treating and undue influence, all of which are subject to a fine of $2,000 or to imprisonment for 12 months.
The offence of bribery is explained in seven scenarios, which include getting or giving money, promises of jobs and offering/ receiving money to return an MP. Howell said when it comes to treating, precedent is used to determine an offence.
“We have case law that says if you’re serving lobster, caviar and expensive champagne at a political event and you’re asking for people to vote for you at that point, then that could be considered that you’re over the top,” he said.
Other offences under the Elections Act include making false statements about a candidate’s character or conduct, breaching the secrecy of voting, unlawfully voting and destroying ballots.
What candidates say “Treating or vote buying is clearly wrong,” new Progressives leader Roy McTaggart said.
He said he has heard a lot of the “rhetoric from social media and in a number of the rallies” alleging accusations of rampant vote buying and treating taking place.
“What I’ve really found conspicuously absent from any of these discussions is proof. With all of the noise, it is really difficult to separate truth from what is simply political rhetoric. I would say to any candidate or any member of the public who has solid reasons and solid information… that they report it to the proper authorities and let it be investigated and prosecuted if necessary,” McTaggart said.
To date, he said he has not received any solicitations from any voters.
“If that were to happen to me, I would simply decline or refuse to accede to their requests. I would also take the time to explain to them why and let them know that it is illegal for these activities to be taking place,” he added.
Fellow George Town East candidate, independent Emily DeCou, echoed that sentiment.
“If someone were to approach me, or if I were to knock on the door of a constituent, and they asked me for money or if they stated, for example, ‘I can’t pay my light bill this month, I will vote for you if you pay it’, I would say ‘Let’s figure out why you can’t pay your light bill, and when I get elected, I will advocate for members of the community like you to find a solution to ensure you don’t have this issue again’,” DeCou said.
She added vote buying is something the community has to be educated on, “so they don’t have to rely on handouts. Government should work to empower our people to thrive, not enabling them to scrape by and just survive,” she said.
Jeanna Williams, an independent candidate for Savannah, said during her canvassing she has come across soliciting, but it was minimal.
“I just basically say ‘Well, actually, I’m here to talk about the issues and that’s really not a position I would ever take’. It really does end there. I’m just very polite about it and we just move along with the conversation after that,” she said.