The executive committee of the LMH JCR has been embroiled in controversy after allegations of electoral malpractice resulted in a comprehensive inquiry into last term’s Vice-Presidential election.
The report, compiled by a JCR Election Committee Tribunal (ECT), suggested that two members of the JCR exec, Lauren Petrie and Richard Russell, “be asked to resign and be barred from standing in any subsequent JCR elections.”
The ECT noted that Russell (Sports Rep) and Petrie (Internal Affairs Officer) had behaved in an “unconstitutional manner.” Specifically they had failed to remain neutral during elections for a new JCR Vice President.
The tribunal investigated a number of incidents. The first suggested Petrie had instructed Mark Wilkinson, the eventual winner, to withdraw his application. JCR member Graham Wallace had originally stood for VP unopposed but was RON-ed, allowing Wilkinson to enter the contest.
Wilkinson told the committee that on 14th November 2011 Petrie ‘requested that, if it came down to it, would I be happy to stand in front of the JCR and inform them that I did not want to stand for Vice President.’ The committee accepted the validity of this evidence as it was confirmed by a third party.
The report commented that such actions had “created an air of hostility and vindictiveness in the run up to hustings and the elections.”
The ECT also investigated claims that Russell posted a status on Facebook prior to the ballot, stating, “Whatever you do don’t vote Graham Wallace for VP.” Two of the committee’s three members had seen this status, so were convinced of its accuracy. The committee concluded that such a public comment “was intended to have an impact on the election.” However they noted that they could not assess how people were actually influenced and this was something for the JCR to consider.
Richard Russell also made a formal complaint on 1st December ‘regarding Lauren Petrie’s conduct during Husts,’ citing her ‘questions and general attitude.’ The ECT accepted that certain questions asked by Petrie had expressed a bias and that her behaviour was inappropriate as it did not maintain the expected neutrality of the Exec. However the ECT noted the election’s overall result demonstrated that her actions had not significantly influenced the way people voted.
The committee’s conclusions stated, “The JCR Constitution clearly states that Exec members must remain impartial during the course of husts and elections.
“Not only were the actions of both Exec members unconstitutional, the ECT believes that both Lauren Petrie and Richard Russell damaged the JCR’s confidence in the Exec and brought the JCR into disrepute.”
Petrie’s resignation was announced in JCR President George Barnes’ email to students at the beginning of this term, before the ECT had begun their investigation.
Russell remains a member of the exec. It is unclear whether he will follow the committee’s recommendations. Both Russell and Petrie declined to comment.
Vice-President Mark Wilkinson is set to retain his position. In the JCR meeting a vote was held to decide whether the election should be re-run. An overwhelming majority voted in favour of keeping the result.
One LMH undergraduate commented, ‘Perhaps such an important decision should have been made through more official means than a show of hands.’
He added, ‘What’s most worrying is that the finding of the ECT seem to have been largely ignored.’
However, another student argued that Russell had nothing to answer for, stating, “Richard Russell is well placed to develop LMH sport, which is far more important than petty constitutional sensitivity.”