For a few days, Banksy was offering an exclusive giveaway of a new, limited-edition print to people who were set to vote against the Tories in the UK’s upcoming general election. But the street artist was forced to cancel his campaign following warnings from the Electoral Commission that his offer may have constituted a criminal offense and invalidated election results, as it required registered voters to send him photographs of their marked paper ballots from election day.
“I regret to announce this ill-conceived and legally dubious promotion has now been cancelled,” Banksy wrote in a statement shared yesterday, headlined “product recall.” His call for pictures on Sunday had immediately raised concerns by many who cited Section 66 of the Representation of the People’s Act, which states that no person shall “directly or indirectly induce a voter to display his ballot paper after he has marked it so as to make known to any person the name of the candidate for whom he has or has not voted.”
Banksy had intended to release the prints on June 9, the day after the election. His offer was extended only to voters in the Bristol North West, Bristol West, North Somerset, Thornbury, Kingswood, and Filton constituencies — all in or near the city of Bristol, the birthplace of the anonymous artist. The new artwork shows a girl reaching for a heart-shaped balloon printed with the Union Jack. It’s a spin on his most famous image, which features the same scene with a less politically charged red balloon.
Police began investigating the campaign on Monday after people began complaining about how it could skew the election results.
“It is a criminal offense under the Representation of People Act 1983 for any voter to accept or agree to accept a gift or similar in return for voting or refraining from voting,” the Avon and Somerset Constabulary wrote in a tweet. “Any person participating in an offer to receive a gift is at risk of being prosecuted.”
— Avon&Somerset Police (@ASPolice) June 5, 2017
As in many states in America, there can be legal consequences for anyone in the UK who photographs a marked ballot. Taking a picture of a ballot’s unique identification number is explicitly against the law, and those who document how others have voted — whether intentionally or not — face a £5,000 (~$6,460 US) fine or six months in prison. The Electoral Commision has advised polling stations to display a notice making clear that photography of any kind is not permitted inside.
Banksy’s original announcement had failed to address any potential repercussions for his fans. The only addendum it included was a lawyer’s note describing the print as a “souvenir piece of campaign material, it is in no way meant to influence the choices of the electorate, has no monetary value, is for amusement purposes only and is strictly not for re-sale.”
The surprise giveaway arrived nearly a month Banksy’s appearance in Dover, where he painted a Brexit-themed mural of a worker chipping away at a star on the European Union flag. As the Telegraph reported, the family that owns the building on which he made his political statement is now planning to sell the piece for £1 million and donate the proceeds to local charities.
Banksy isn’t the only artist engaging with the UK’s upcoming election; Cornelia Parker is doing so under sanctioned terms, as the official artist for the 2017 general election. The first woman to hold the position since its creation in 2011, Parker is producing an election-inspired work that will enter the Parliamentary Art Collection and go on view at the House of Commons in September. In the meantime, she has been keeping a visual diary on Instagram as @electionartist2017.