Published On: Mon, Feb 19th, 2018

Prosecutor’s office keeps an eye on election fraud

PHILIPSBURG – “Around every election the prosecutor’s office of St. Maarten receives indications that voters are bribed to cast their vote for a particular party or person,” the Prosecutor’s Office writes in a press release, adding that it will be “extra vigilant” in cooperation with the National Detective Agency during the period until the elections for indications of bribery and the buying of votes.

The prosecutor’s office points out that buying of selling votes is prohibited under article 2:44 of the penal code of St. Maarten. The maximum penalty is 2 years of imprisonment and in certain cases the court could take away a guilty party’s right to vote or to be elected.

“To prove this offense it is sufficient that parties agree on not voting or voting in a particular way by accepting a gift or a promise,” the Prosecutor’s Office writes in its press release. “That afterwards the gift of promise is not redeemed or that the actual voting occurs differently than agreed upon, does not matter.”

The Prosecutor’s Office furthermore notes that an attempt to bribe is also punishable. “This is the case when a gift of a promise is offered, but the other party does not wish to cooperate.”

Campaign material like pens, buttons and tee shirts with the logo of a political party is exempt from gifts made to commit citizens to vote a certain way.

While the Prosecutor’s Office and the National Detective Agency once more alert the public to the crime of vote selling an buying, recent history shows that getting a conviction for those who get caught is not all that simple.

The first vote buying-case ever to make it to court dates back to the 2010-elections. Several police officers were accused of selling their vote to the United People’s party and a representative of the party was also in court as the suspect who gave them money in exchange for their vote.

The Court in First Instance established in 2016 that the defendants had gone to the UP to ask for money and that they did receive it. In spite of this, the court ruled on September 14, 2016, that there is no legal and convincing evidence for the charges, because all defendants denied that there was an agreement or that any condition was attached to the payment. The UP-representative told the court that his co-defendants felt free to vote for another party and that they actually did this.

That court ruling would have made proving election fraud near impossible, but the common Court of Justice came to the rescue when it handled the appeal against the verdicts in 2017. On that occasion, the suspects were sentenced to a 3-month conditional prison sentence and a fine of 300 guilders. The appeals court overruled the lower court, saying that there was an agreement between the sellers and the buyer; that the sellers had  voted for another party made no difference, the court ruled.

These sentences have not impressed political pundits. Silvio Matser, a member of Parliament for the United St. Maarten party (USp) has been charged with election fraud during the 2014 elections. During the 2016 elections, the vote count for Chanel Brownbill – currently a member of the USp – also raised eyebrows. And the leader of that party, Frans Richardson, is currently detained on charges of membership of a criminal organization, established to recruit votes for himself.