Statement from Deputy Returning Officer, Hertfordshire Students’ Union Elections
Throughout this year’s elections period, the Students’ Union received a number of complaints from concerned students voicing issues they faced while engaging with our elections – these issues included: voter intimidation, bullying, harassment and even phones being taken so campaigners could (illegally) vote on students’ behalf. The number of complaints was not vastly different to what we have received in previous years, but having recently undertaken a review of our elections guidelines, the Union was better equipped and better able to address these complaints.
This behaviour is in complete opposition to the values of the Students’ Union – we pride ourselves on being a welcoming, inclusive, student-led organisation. We put students first, and the behaviour reported was not at all in line with what we would expect from our potential student leaders.
As per our elections complaint procedures, we undertook the following process
1. Each complaint received was logged, responded to and reviewed by our Elections Committee. The SU Elections Committee is a staff committee whose role it is to uphold our elections rules and ensure our elections are free and fair. The Committee agreed that the evidence submitted suggested that a number of election rules and regulations had been breached, most heavily within the categories of Vice President Education and President.
2. Given the high number of complaints and the short window between the end of the voting period and the scheduled announcement of elections results, the Committee felt it could not undertake a full and fair investigation in line with our procedures and policies. For this reason, the Committee took the difficult decision of delaying the vote tally for the VP Education and President positions.
3. The ensuing investigation took place over a period of six working days (the Friday voting closed and the full week immediately thereafter) and brought together dozens of interviews with SU and University staff, students, candidates and campaigners along with a range of evidence including photos, videos, voting logs from our web provider and CCTV footage.
4. Individual reports and evidence files were then compiled for all seven candidates.
5. After a full and thorough review of each report and evidence file, the Deputy Returning Officer, with the support of the Elections Committee took the difficult decision to disqualify seven candidates in total. The reasons for disqualification ranged in nature, but included:
- Comments of a homophobic nature appearing on a campaigner’s social media page in support of a candidate
- Overspending the campaign budget limit of £40
- Taking students’ mobile phones and using them to vote on their behalf
- Bullying, harassment and intimidation of voters
- Bullying, harassment and intimidation of fellow candidates and their campaigners
- Attempting to influence the outcome of the Election by encouraging candidates to withdraw during the investigation period in the hopes of forcing the SU to spend additional time and resource running another Election.
6. Summaries of their reports and corresponding evidence files were provided to the seven candidates, detailing the allegations against them and the election rules that were identified to have been breached. They were also given the right to appeal and details of how to do so via the Returning Officer. The Returning Officer in this election was the National Union of Students (NUS), and their decision over any matters relating to elections is final.
7. The majority of candidates used their right to appeal. Following a review of these appeals and all supporting evidence, the Returning Officer took the decision to uphold the decision of the Deputy Returning Officer in all cases.
During the period of the process above, the votes for President and VP Education remained uncounted to ensure an impartial decision-making process. Following the disqualification of the candidates, the electronic counting system redistributed first preference votes from students who had voted for the disqualified candidates to the voters' second preference candidate, where one was given.
The SU understands that many will be disappointed by this outcome, however, we simply cannot condone the behaviour we had reported. We take the representation of student members extremely seriously and therefore we are committed to ensuring that our student elections are free, fair and transparent.
We would like to congratulate all candidates that have now been elected into their full and part time roles within the SU, and we look forward to working with them all in the year ahead.