By FRANCESCA MOLD political reporter
Election candidates are being warned off attempts to woo voters with lashings of food and alcohol at campaign meetings in case they fall foul of electoral laws.
Chief Electoral Officer David Henry yesterday told candidates to stick to offering supporters only a cup of tea and a light supper. If they offered anything more, it could be seen as "treating" voters - attempting to corruptly influence their vote with the reward of a few drinks and tasty nibbles.
Any breach of the "treating" section of the Electoral Act could result in serious penalties, said Mr Henry.
An MP could lose his or her seat and candidates faced a three-year ban from registration as an elector, a $4000 fine and a year in prison.
Voters who accepted the treats would also be in trouble and could be prosecuted for corruptly accepting the food and drink.
Last month, Alliance whip Grant Gillon claimed that Act MP Rodney Hide had tried to bribe or "treat" voters by offering a $100 garden voucher as a prize for Epsom residents who returned a survey he had sent out.
The questionnaire asked residents if they wanted Mr Hide to contest the Epsom electorate.
Mr Gillon complained to the chief electoral officer, but Mr Henry cleared Mr Hide of any wrongdoing, saying the offer of a chance to go into a draw to win the garden voucher was an incentive for people to return the survey form, rather than an attempt to induce them into voting.
Former Alliance candidate Danna Glendining got into trouble over the same issue in 1996, when she handed out free apples to Wellington commuters to mark World Environment Day.
At the time, the Electoral Office said her actions came close to breaking the treating law.