St Edmund Hall JCR held an emergency meeting on 23rd November after it became apparent that “at least 15” students, “primarily freshers”, had been unable to vote in the election to choose key JCR roles due to technical issues.
The initial vote was conducted through the Oxford University Student Union website between 04:26 on Wednesday 18 November until 14:00 on Thursday 19 November. During that time, two students contacted the JCR IT Officer reporting their being unable to vote. One JCR member who reported technical issues described in the emergency general meeting that it had taken “seven hours” to resolve and included sending screenshots.
The results were released on 19 November at 18:59. An email sent on 21 November at 13:09 by the IT Officer to ask if there were others who were unable to vote due to technical issues revealed that “at least 15” students had encountered similar problems.
Two of the contested positions, JCR President and JCR Female Welfare Officer, were won by victory margins which fell within the amount of people who had been blocked from voting due to technical issues. The position of President was won by 13 votes while the position of Female Welfare Officer was won by 12.
On 22 November, the JCR President announced an emergency general meeting scheduled 24 hours after its announcement, as per the minimum constitutional requirement. In the email, the President admitted that “15 students came forward and reported this issue to us, and with this number being roughly 10% of those who did vote, there is belief that this is significantly large enough for a re-run of the elections to occur.” However, he stated that a call for a new election was not an opinion “held unanimously” by the JCR Committee, and therefore it was decided that an Emergency Meeting to vote on whether to hold a new election was “the fairest and most democratic action to take.”
Cherwell was able to view the election minutes, in which JCR members on both sides of the argument made opening statements. The statement opposing the calling of a new election stated: “To open the election again is basically saying that we want to open the election because certain students weren’t happy with the results.
“There will be no material change to the way the JCR conducts the election. Getting in contact with [the IT officer] to say that you’ve struggled to vote, couldn’t figure out the system or couldn’t find the button literally takes less than a minute.”
The statement continued: “To say that there were unreasonable factors preventing JCR members from voting is ludicrous since they had plenty of warning and it takes no time at all to get in contact with [the IT officer] or literally anyone on the JCR committee and ask them to help you.”
They also cited the welfare of candidates and that a new election would potentially become a “popularity competition where the person who can get the most people to speak vocally in their favour has a large advantage.”
The statement arguing for a new election read: “This was obviously not [the students’] fault and meant that they were unable to voice their opinion. This is almost equal to about 10% of people who voted for the JCR President (160 votes counted) and is therefore by no means an insignificant proportion of people and could have made the difference to a number of results.”
It continued: “Some are arguing that they should have contacted the IT Officer or the JCR President. This is an unreasonable and dangerous argument. As a democratic principle, all those who are eligible to vote should be able to vote with the same ease as others and to expect these people to have to jump through a series of hoops to record their vote is unfair. It is known that one person did contact the IT officer and it took several hours for them to record their vote, furthermore it seems an individual contacted the SU who were not able to resolve the issue in time for the end of the polls [sic].
“These experiences might have put other students off and go to show that it was not an easy process to get their vote counted. Furthermore, the confidence required for a fresher who may have never spoken to or met either the IT officer or the JCR president is underestimated, particularly as they might have believed it was a problem of their own doing.”
The statement emphasised that the motion was not “a retrospective attempt to change the outcome of the election” and “is merely an attempt to ensure that we have a fair election.”
One member was recorded as having said: “The point made saying that it is unfair to expect freshers to get in contact with the committee about voting problems does not make sense. Everyone here is an adult and that’s not unreasonable to expect someone who wanted to vote to do that.”
A JCR member then responded: “I think it is a base level principle. Individuals may not have wanted to hassle people or message people who they have never met. They tried to log in and as a basic principle it is unreasonable to get people to go through all of those hoops. For some people the barrier of vote should not be higher than for others.”
Members expressed concern about a re-election being unfair as the results of the first election had already been published: “I think it is completely unfair to say you can void the first election because everyone has seen the votes now. You can’t change that by voiding the first one, there’s no way that they will be treated separately. It will create completely different incentives for people which will make it completely unfair.”
In response, another student claimed: “I’ve heard people saying that they would vote for someone they didn’t vote for before because they wouldn’t want that person to lose now. Also I have heard the other way round. I think it would be viewed as another election and if we do another one that last election would be void.”
The vote at the emergency meeting saw 50 votes against the motion to have another election, and 47 in favour. As such, the motion failed.
The JCR Committee had earlier this term agreed to extend the period of voting in regards to a referendum about the role of the social secretary, as people had reported issues with voting. When asked why the same protocol was not being followed in the JCR Committee elections, a member responded: “The reason we extended the referendum voting at the time was because we knew there were a few issues at the time. The reason it wasn’t the case this time was because we were unaware that there were all of these issues as only two people got in touch with [the IT Officer].”
Cherwell can report that the St Edmund Hall JCR Committee did not follow the guidelines of the constitution when organising voting times for the election. The Constitution states that the dates and times of the election must be announced seven days in advance, which did not take place. Teddy Hall’s Constitution does not provide for a specific Returning Officer and instead this is a role undertaken by the IT Officer, who is appointed by the JCR President in consultation with the Committee.
The St Edmund Hall JCR President has been contacted for comment.
Image Credit: Grayswoodsurrey // Wikimedia Commons. Licence: CC-BY-SA 4.0.