Lancaster University Students' Union (LUSU)'s decision to disqualify the Re-Open Nominations option in the recent Presidential by-election ('RONgate') has provoked ire and ridicule across all quarters of the Lancaster student population. Several societies, JCRs, and even the candidate who was elected have all hit out at LUSU's lack of transparency surrounding the by-election. Spineless now adds its voice to the melee, to ask eight key questions which we believe LUSU's student members have a right to know the answers to.
What was the election turnout?
Since polls closed at 4pm on Friday, LUSU has thus far reported three contradicting turnout figures – 8.28%, 8.32% and 9%. Why does the figure keep changing? And which figure are students meant to believe?
Why were the JCRs not invited to oversee the election count?
Section 10.4 of the Democracy bye-law states that 'Democracy Committee may oversee the count' as independent student scrutineers. Democracy Committee is made up of JCR representatives, most of which have now publicly criticised LUSU's handling of the election process. This indicates that the JCRs weren't afforded the opportunity of overseeing the count as is their right – why not?
Would RON have won if it wasn't disqualified?
When the Returning Officer disqualified RON in Durham, all ballots which first preferenced RON were discounted, regardless of if they gave additional preferences to other candidates. It took Durham students more than a month to find out that had it not been disqualified, RON would have won the election, with 58% of the first-preference vote. Did the same thing happen in Lancaster?
How did the Returning Officer conduct a thorough investigation in less than 24 hours?
On Friday evening, LUSU warned that investigating the 'significant number' of complaints made about the election 'will take a significant amount of time.' But a mere 20 hours later, the Returning Officer's investigation was complete. What changed overnight which enabled the investigation to finish so quickly?
Why was the RON campaign not contacted?
A key principle outlined in LUSU's complaints procedure is that 'Any person who is the subject of a complaint has the right to be supplied with a copy of the complaint, and to comment on it.' Despite this, the RON campaign revealed that LUSU has not made any attempt to contact them, never mind provide them an opportunity to defend themselves.
Where do the bye-laws give the Returning Officer the authority to disqualify RON?
Section 2.4 of the Democracy bye-law clearly states that 'Re-open Nominations shall be an option in all elections.' The decision to disqualify RON meant that it ceased to be 'an option' – so that decision is in breach of the bye-law. Section 11.4 gives the Returning Officer the option of 'removal of candidates' if a complaint is upheld. But RON is not a candidate, it's 'an option'.
Which aspect of the Election Rules is RON supposed to have broken?
LUSU has refused to disclose which rules RON supporters are supposed to have broken, saying that doing so would compromise the confidentiality of the complaints process. Does the Returning Officer have evidence of RON supporters defacing private property with chalk (rule 3.5)? Or disturbing students in the Library (rule 3.7) perhaps? If not, it's very hard to see which rules have supposedly been broken in a digital-only campaign during a national lockdown.
Do the Election Rules even apply to RON?
Section 3.1 of the Election Rules state: 'Campaigning is defined as any activity designed to raise an individual’s profile as a candidate'. RON-supporting students' activities cannot be described as 'campaigning' under this definition – RON is not a candidate or individual. This surely means that the Election Rules aren't applicable to RON supporters in the first place.