A LIBERAL Democrat polling agent who tried to rig a local election is behind bars for 18 months.
Burnley Crown Court heard how 50 false votes, about 2% of the overall vote, were cast for the party’s candidate Tahir Nawaz, after Asif Manzur stole a book of unissued ballot papers from Burnley Boys’ Club polling station. The papers were for the Burnley Council election in Daneshouse and Stoneyholme.
Manzur, a 35-year-old father of five, admitted conspiring with others unknown to defraud the borough’s returning officer. The defendant, of Waterbarn Street, Burnley, had no previous convictions. He was jailed for 18 months and ordered to pay £670 in costs.
Prosecutor Kim Whittlestone said the ballot papers had been checked twice and were in books of 50, running consecutively, with only one book was used at any one time. The books not in use were in a pile on a chair next to a stereo, away from the public.
About 4-30 p.m. Manzur asked an official if he could turn on the stereo to listen to an election programme and was allowed into the secure area. Miss Whittlestone said within half an hour it was discovered a book of ballot papers was missing. The election finished at 10 p.m. and the sealed ballot box was taken to the count where a clerk found 12 votes together in a bundle.
Miss Whittlestone said the clerk, who had 20 years’ experience, had never seen anything like it before. They were consecutively numbered and all marked in favour of the Liberal Democrat candidate. More papers were discovered similarly bunched and she told the deputy returning officer.
The prosecutor said police were called and the suspicious ballot papers were examined after officers secured a court order. Manzur’s fingerprints were on three of the fake votes and the crosses were found to have been added while the papers were still in the book.
The prosecutor said the result of the election in that ward was 1,554 votes for the Labour Party, 1,071 for the Lib-Dems and 101 for the Conservatives. She added: ”The defrauded ballot papers didn’t impinge on the results.” Ahmed Nadim (defending) urged the judge to pass a suspended sentence. He said: ”The fraud itself was opportunistic and short-lived. The defendant recognises his behaviour cannot and should not be tolerated in a democratic society, for it does undermine the confidence in the electoral process.”
He added Manzur devoted much of his time to charity and community work and organised competitions between local youths.
Mr Nadim added: ”The shame that has been visited upon the defendant and his family is felt by him acutely and he understands that by his dishonesty his sins have been visited upon his children, who are bullied and humiliated in the school playground.”
Sentencing, Judge Simon Newell said a polling agent had a position of responsibility and trust. ”When fraud is used for such a purpose, in my opinion a custodial sentence is inevitable. It sends out a message to the community at large that the integrity of the electoral system will be protected at all costs.”