Lancaster University Students’ Union shall strive for its decision making to be transparent to the membership at all times.
– Accountability and Transparency bye-law
A winner has been announced in this week's by-election for the role of Lancaster University Students' Union (LUSU) President. The election of Oliver Robinson, a Labour city councillor, follows the decision to disqualify all votes for Re-Open Nominations (RON). Cllr Robinson's appointment on 1st July is still subject to the outcome of any appeal made by his predecessor, George Nuttall.
Voting in the by-election closed at 4pm yesterday, and in the evening LUSU warned that students would have to wait 'a significant amount of time' before hearing the results due to multiple election complaints which had been referred to the Returning Officer, Peter Robertson, for investigation. Today, a statement by LUSU announced that the investigation had been completed and confirmed 'multiple breaches of the rules outside the spirit of a fair and open election'. Details of these breaches has not been divulged and it will not do so in order to uphold the anonymity of complainants.
Mr Robertson has clearly honed his investigation technique in the past few months, as he was able to adjudicate these complaints in record speed, on a weekend no less. Spineless is very impressed that he was able to gather evidence and interview witnesses multiple times for each respective complaint, as surely he must have done in order to uphold them, in the space of just 24 hours! Bravo.
Responses have come thick and fast to the decision. Former NUS Delegate Callum Slater revealed that he had raised concerns with LUSU about the campaign page 'Save College Sports' being used to promote RON, though added that he didn't think that was the basis for it being disqualified and that he disagreed with the disqualification. Fabiha Askari, acting chair of LUSU's Executive Committee, said that she would do all she could to make LUSU give students more details. Lancfessions, who say they have been told their support of RON was one reason it was disqualified, have made clear they are not affiliated to LUSU and that they 'do whatever [they] want'. Notably, Grizedale College JCR have demanded to know why RON was disqualified. In the meantime, they have said that they 'will be reevaluating' their relationship to LUSU and 'will consider not taking part in Welcome Week if the situation is not resolved.' The RON campaign has also said they will be releasing a statement in due course.
It is at present unclear whether RON would have won if it had not been disqualified. In Durham SU, where Mr Robertson is also Returning Officer, he made a remarkably similar decision to disqualify RON from their sabbatical officer elections in February. It later transpired RON had recieved 58% of the vote in the first round. The count sheets published by LUSU reveal that at least 181 valid first preferences were not counted as a result of the RON disqualification. They have not specified whether these are the ballots that only gave RON a first preference and voted for no other candidates, or whether they are all of the ballots that voted RON first preference regardless of whether they had other preferences. The latter situation is what occurred in Durham, something a subsequent investigation into the matter deemed 'unsatisfactory'.
LUSU's statement today also revealed that election turnout was 9%. This is contradicted by LUSU's election statistics page, which currently reports a final turnout of 8.28%, and reported a turnout of 8.32% when polls closed yesterday. This irregularity is unlikely to reassure students that due process has been followed in the last 24 hours.
An appeal against the Returning Officer's decision must be made to Lancaster University itself. The University has a statutory duty under the Education Act 1994 to ensure that LUSU elections are 'fairly and properly conducted'. It is as yet unknown whether any students, or members of the RON campaign, intend to make such an appeal. One thing, however, is for certain: it is an affront to every voter in this election for LUSU to have treated electoral integrity so whimsically and there ought to be consequences.
Update: The 'Send A Message, Vote RON' campaign has released a statement that says the disqualification of RON votes was an 'illegal' move by the Students' Union. They have also said they believe the election results are 'illegitimate'. Their full argument is outlined in a post on their Facebook page.
(Featured image by Goldon Cosmos, originally for The New York Times.)