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Union candidates disqualified for electoral malpractice

An election tribunal at the Oxford Union has found Presidential candidate Sunny Jain, OUSU Vice-President for Women Sarah Pine, ex-Secretary Alex Trafford, and candidate for Standing Committee Robert Harris guilty of electoral malpractice.

Jain, a second year student at Queen’s, was found to be in breach of Rule 33, which explicitly forbids forming an electoral pact with other candidates or openly campaigning for election with anyone other than “close personal friends”. As a result, Jain has had his candidacy disqualified from the recent elections, was fined £200 and banned from running in Union elections again. Jain is the first Presidential candidate to be disqualified since 2007.

The offense centre around a Facebook message sent from his account saying “hey bro, can I count on your support”, as well as including a list of candidates, known as a ‘slate’.

In his defence, Jain claimed the message sent from his computer had been sent by Sarah Pine in his room at 6am, while he was engaged in “vigorous exercise” in Christ Church meadow. In an email to the Returning Officer, Pine supported this version of events, however the tribunal panel stated that they found this scenario “highly implausible”, with one member of the panel asking whether the Vice President for Women of the Student Union would begin her messages with “bro” particularly as she had started other messages that had been submitted in evidence with “heya”. 

Ms Pine entered a guilty plea to electoral malpractice, also under Rule 33. She was found to have sent a Facebook message alerting members of the presence of a list of “anti-rape culture” candidates that included encouraging recipients to vote for Sunny Jain for President. She also posted a Facebook status that stated “Under Oxford Union rules we can’t draw attention to today’s elections” but saying “I’ve just heard several reports that the current President is standing in the Union gardens en-route to the polling station, trying to ensure people vote for his favoured candidates how desperate the Union’s elites are to stifle the chances of those people who are standing and committed to radical reform and transparency in the Union.” The status was found to break the Union rule that prohibits people from drawing the attention of the election to non-members.

Alex Trafford was also found to have breached the rules by openly campaigning for a candidate for President, Chris Frost. He posted a Facebook image of Frost, photoshopped to show him wielding a sword and decapitating snakes, including the hashtag #backthebid.  A ‘snake’ is a colloquial Union term for a candidate who is considered to be disloyal. Trafford was fined £100.

Robert Harris, who had been elected to Standing Committe, was found guilty of breaching Union rules on campaigning after evidence emerged of him sending multiple Facebook messages to several members asking them to vote for him and other candidates. Harris was disqualified from election, meaning he will not take up his position on Standing Committee, and fined £100.

President-Elect designate Lisa Wehden, Librarian-Elect designate Charlie Vaughn, ex-Editor of The Oxford Student Nick Toner and Returning Officer Wharton Chan were all found not guilty. 

Lisa Wehden and Charlie Vaughan were both found not guilty on the grounds of “no case to answer” when the evidence submitted against them, a recording alleged to have been made of them discussing making an electoral pact, was ruled inadmissible as they did not have the consent of the parties involved in the recording.

Nick Toner was also found not guilty. He was charged with having interfered with the election by publishing an article in the 7th Week edition of The Oxford Student that included candidates manifesto claims, but had misrepresented Sunny Jain. Toner accidentally published Jain’s claim as saying that he had “worked more than three vacation days” rather than “more than 30”, as was claimed in Jain’s manifesto. Zachary Spiro, Deputy Returning Officer speaking for Jain, who was absent, stated that “every person who voted would have had to walk within 10 feet of an OxStu.” The panel stated that it “would be obvious to most readers of The Oxford Student” that it was a typo, and that even if it unfairly influenced candidates, the effect would have been exceedingly unlikely to have influenced the outcome of the election.

Wharton Chan, the Returning Officer at the time of the election, was found not guilty of innocent interference in the election for Secretary between Dominic Merchant and Annie Teriba. Merchant won the election by three votes, however there was a discrepancy of four in the number of votes recorded and it was claimed that this discrepancy could have influenced the result. The complaint was rejected by the panel.

The tribunal panel, including ex-Presidents Richard Tydeman and Neil Mahapatra and ex-Returning Officer Jo Joyce, is expected to release a full report on the proceedings within the next several days. Although contacted by Cherwell, Sunny Jain declined to comment.

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