Friday, 13 March 2009

HUU Elections 2009 - The delayed President

One of the more controversial aspects of the elections that recently took place at Hull University Union was the disqualification of one of the Presidential candidates - Jamie Scudamore. Due to that decision, made by Returning Officer Kat Docherty, Jamie appealed and that meant an Election Appeals Committee had to be arranged. This delayed the result by a week.

Final round results
As the decision to disqualify Jamie Scudamore was reversed by the Election Appeals Committee, he has been elected President and all of the results from the polling period stand. R.O.N was out of the running first. In the next round Ben Hall and Rory Stobo were out of the running, which meant there was three candidates in the final round:

Jamie Scudamore1152
Amy Hopkinson655
Andrew Barrett471
Q&A with Alex Hamilton
Alex Hamilton
After the result of this particular election was announced, I had several questions. A number of rumours were being circulated and I wanted to make sure I had the truth before blogging anything. Yesterday I sent an email to Alex Hamilton (the UST and Deputy Returning Officer), containing the questions that I had and I got the following responses this morning:

Are the minutes of the EAC going to be published on hullstudent?
I'll have to check with Paul what the availability of closed committee minutes is. The reasons to go into closed session were the reports of what has happened previously in EACs, regarding intimidation of the EAC by the behaviour and amount of people present (Amy had arrived with about 15 very vocal supporters); also some of the evidence given would be prejudicial against one of the complainants if the EAC decided to re-run the election so it was deemed unsuitable to be heard publically.

Is it true that there was a 12-0 vote in favour of Jamie Scudamore winning, despite him breaking rules?
The vote was 10-0 as only ten could make the meeting (quoracy is seven). They decided that the infringements during the election that were dealt with to the RO’s satisfaction were not grounds to exclude him and that the only unresolved issue, the one for which the RO excluded the candidate was insubstantial, especially given the circumstances in which it was initiated.

Was the EAC called because he was canvassing (e.g. knocking on doors) in areas where he wasn't supposed to?
It was not. There has been a rumour of a local council byelaw prohibiting this, but no proof has been offered. I have myself researched this and the only thing I could find was a byelaw preventing the employment of children for door knocking/ canvassing without an adult present; which would of course imply that adults can do so.

There have been accusations of rigging (I'm not going to name anyone). Can I get your confirmation that it was completely random selection that decided who was part of the EAC?
I can confirm the students were entirely random, as the Chair of Council (Paddy) and James Brooks can attest to.

The process I used to select the students was to generate 200 random positive integers, these numbers then corresponded to a cell on an excel spreadsheet of all students, which has them listed 1-17000ish. These names were then checked against the list of candidates, proposers and seconders. I then sent an email to these students explaining the situation (an appeal had been made which required adjudication). I also checked the respondents’ facebooks for any campaign ties, and then found a time that at least 7 could make to hold the meeting. I also did not know any of the EAC.

I must also point out that I refused to release the names of the EAC prior to the meeting, despite threats of a motion of no-confidence against myself (which was subsequently made) from Amy’s campaign team, notably Sam Greenwood.

What are your thoughts on the decision of the EAC to elect Jamie?
I am of course impartial to any proceedings during the election period. I am satisfied though that the EAC carried out their duty satisfactorily and professionally.

Alex finished off the email by stating:
"There have been a great deal of rumours surrounding the President election (as there are almost every year), this year I feel the difference is that two actively political campaigns have not succeeded against what is seen as an outsider to HUU politics, and due to the last minute resignation of the previous RO, a Sabbatical needing to take on the deputy duties, as I am available on campus during the period – as a result the parties involved moved their attentions from campaigning for a victory to undermining the processes involved.

The recently elected Officers have a massive democratic mandate as a result of our highest ever turnout, and as such it is a shame that some groups within our democratic structures are intent on ignoring and undermining this."
First of all I have to thank Alex for taking the time to answer the questions. It would have been easy to ignore them and keep speculation circulating around the union.

Despite the detail of these responses, I still have some concerns. Kat Docherty was only present on the results night and there is no evidence to suggest she was present at the EAC to justify her decision. His refusal to release the names of the EAC is also worrying.

There is only his word which states the membership wasn't rigged in any way. This doesn't help to make the union transparent and also means there is nothing to prove that what he says about committee selection is correct. In the past, I have seen EAC membership announced and it's even more important given that there's a no-confidence motion against him.

In point 3, he stated that he could not find evidence to prove that the accusation about canvassing was against the rules. After searching election laws, Standing Order 2003 (governing elections) and the HUU Bye-laws I could not find anything either. If there is proof - then please leave a comment on this blog post.

If there's no proof of that though, what was the reason for the initial disqualification? This needs to be stated to make sure the union remains transparent.

Alex also mentioned the subject of the previous RO (Paul Tatton), resigning from that position. Even though Alex felt an impartial replacement needed to be found, this does not mean that he should necessarily be the automatic choice as a deputy. As I have stated in a previous blog post, theoretically he could influence the result and (as he rightly states), executive officers are meant to be impartial.

Public opinion
I have asked other people what they feel about the decision to elect a candidate who was initially disqualified. One person said:
"I think its right
There is no way you can say that the number of votes cast has been dramatically affected by what happened.
His vote count was far too high for that."
I replied by stating that "while it's true that there is no proof that the two things are linked, is it right that a person who was initially disqualified should be elected?". The person said:
"i still feel it was in the best interests of the students and the union itself"
It is an interesting point. Not being able to found out who can rightly call themselves President as soon as possible can have a huge impact. It affects training schedules, teamwork and could potentially mean voters lose faith in the union's ability to manage itself properly.

However, it is important that those who are elected have the right to hold that position and all necessary steps need to be taken to ensure that.

Summary and Conclusion
I would say that the biggest problem is communication. As I have mentioned, there is evidence of a lack of transparency and people need this to know that their votes have meaning. There needs to be appropriate publicity for all elections and all info that is published needs to be 100% accurate.

The presidential election could have been handled better, but I applaud Alex for giving answers to important questions in an effort to reduce the number of concerns people have. If you have any issues with the election, it is always important to contact the RO or the deputy.

It will be interesting to hear what happens with the no-confidence motion. There seems to be a large amount of support for it, but will people give up as the election process is now completed?

So, what do you think?

Technorati tags: Election, HUU, Politics, Student Unions, President


Oliver Drew said...

Hi David!

Nice post, great analysis.

Got to disagree with you on one thing though - surely keeping the members of the EAC quiet for now is the right thing to do from a safety perspective?

It seems that this election was both hard fought and fought (by it seems the losing candidate(s)) in a nasty, intimidating way.

Given those assumptions surely it would make sense, from a security perspective, to keep the names of the people who overturned the explusion of the (winning) candidate private for a while until things calm down?

As it happens, if there is any evidence of vote rigging then he has (surely) committed a criminal offence, never mind an offence of the voting rules of the Students' Union? Either way, if there is evidence, and I do stress the if bit, then he should have been disqualified.

John Wilding said...

Well, I thought there was vote rigging last year. Whether or not this is the case, "truth will out" as we say in the North.
I would agree with you about secrecy of the EAC. We don't want this filth affecting innocent people.

John Wilding said...

I would like to discuss an idea I had. I made it last year, forgot about it, then this happened!
The idea is that all factions should meet and a representative from each should meet to interview impartial candidates (not students) to take a paid position as head of an independent body (let's call it "ACP - Anti-Corruption Patrol". This person will investigate all complaints on behalf of students, regarding elections or other disputes. The person and associates who they themselves will employ, will investigate such incidents. If they find something untoward then a disciplinary "trial" can take place, in which the aggrieved acts as prosecutor, and accused as defendant. Witnesses call be called as with a real trial. This would also be good experience for Law students.
A jury will be formed with 6 members of the ACP, and 6 students chosen by the method that Alex says is used to pick the Election Appeals Committee.
Bloody good idea, I think. I would be willing to head up the ACP for free.
If you think this is a good idea, join our Facebook group. We have a few already:

Anonymous said...

John your a cock!

John Wilding said...

Something I found a little quizzical was why Election Appeals Committee was done "in committee". i.e. not minuted.
It looks a little shifty.
Would it not have been possible to minute it, but not refer to the Committee members by name?
Why am I a cock? Explain. It is a perfectly good system. Isn't that a bit strong?

John Wilding said...

Ok. Here's a better idea, and it has psychological reasoning.
People who are in an unfamiliar situation have a tendency to do what they think their superior officers want. They will also, if unsure of the situation, do whatever an "expert" in that situation would do. These two social psychological phenomena might mean that the random students will simply do as they feel the experts (in this case, the student politicians) want them to, rather than making a conscientious decision.
What about comprising an appeals committee from members of different factions, with the majority decision counting? If they are split down the middle, the RO should have final say.

Delorean Gray said...

Good, intelligent and informed piece DM.

I agree with Warwick’s facebook comment that the process of facebooking people and searching for potential thoughtcrime is very dubious. Surely if it’s going to be a ‘random’ system it should be truly ‘random’ with no/minimal selection. I have to say I agree with not releasing the names of the members as this prevents any potential reprisals/ backlash which I do believe is inevitable, surely this makes the argument for pure random selection even greater if the names will never be released and the meeting is in closed session.

It strikes me that elections seem to cause so much controversy year on year that no system will ever be perfect however much kudos should go to HUU for increasing turnout. It’s nice to see that ‘Democracy’’ is extending to beyond the informed politico elite and union ‘usual suspects‘ .

Linked to the issue of postering previously discussed, as someone who had been approached to stand as a candidate and had considered standing in said elections the three key things that put me off were 1) The cost - as a self financing student I could not afford a major campaign and all the associated costs - t shirts, posters, stickers on pizza boxes, sweets, costume hire etc, etc. 2) My degree would have suffered irreparably had I written off a week of key semester/dissertation writing time and the trouble of Generating/motivating supporters and 3) I was most put off by the intimidation bordering on bullying from more politically active campaigns who were able to gleen from a much broader pool of supporters/many with much more campaigning experience.

John Wilding said...

I knew it was you, Eddie! Obviously you kept anonymous, but your typing contains all the blueprints of your keyboard style.

Anonymous said...

The handling of the EAC was done completely wrong - not least because it was tampered with by a group of people that HUU is struggling to have confidence in. Alex is having a no-confidence mounted against him, there's a pretty vicious email going around that basically amounts to a potential no-confidence against Helen, Alex and Coralie seem to agree on everything - why the hell are we letting UEC have any say in an electoral committee?

How is anyone supposed to respect the decision of 10 (of 12) people, several of whom had been swapped around somewhat arbitrarily based on Facebook photos? It was pointed out to me that everyone on that committee was likely to be relatively politically active to have answered the email, and as such would have had a vote (and a bias) anyway - and I'm inclined to agree.

Why couldn't we just take the first 12 and do it via the rules instead of letting the failings of our previous sabbaticals contaminate our confidence in our new president? And since when did making a complaint the second the RO turned up (late Thursday, wasn't it?) become such a "dirty" tactic? A process that should have been clean, clinical and smooth has become a mud-slinging session, and it's hard to see who's not to blame.

John Wilding said...

A woman who agrees with her boyfriend all the time while being supposed to be representing her people, that's not good. You're supposed to support the majority of the people you represent, not your friends.
The whole idea of democracy is that the majority should have the deciding say, or that a consensus be reached between opposing views. That this doesn't happen suggests that democracy has ceased to exist, but then I thought that was the case a year ago and it just gets worse.
I was directed to the paper with the motion of no confidence against Hamilton, by one of his fellow Tories. Even his own faction is out to get him, but he'll get off just like that crook Webster last year. They think it's punk to be Conservative. They believe in playing up to the negative stereotypes that the media considers Tory traits but, in actuality, haven't been anything about being Tory. The only thing that portrayal is about being, is about being a jerk.
And if you think Tory infighting is a sign of weakness, I would disagree. Read "A Team of Rivals" (endorsed by Obama) and you will get the gist. Better that people argue and get the best agreed consensus for all involved, rather than be a Labour robot and fall victim to groupthink.
If there is one thing being a Conservative is not, it is not what HUU Tories of the past regime would have you believe. i.e., it is not about doing what you want because you can and screw everyone else.
The current Hull C.F. have exactly the correct Tory attitude and are representing what it means to be Conservative. The best thing this old school Hull C.F., like Hamilton, can do, if he truly cares about his party is put others before himself for once in his damn life and resign.

John Wilding said...

My previous post was dependent on all the concerns in the official Motion of No Confidence document being true and accurate.

Anonymous said...

Technically, John, Hamilton is not part of the Tories. Sure, he has conservative political leanings, but doesn't automatically mean he is a Tory.

As for the EAC, I think it's a fair body, apart from the fact it is a sabbatical officer chairing the meeting. I think it should be the Chair of Council, or another student with similar experience chairing, but as the chair doesn't get a vote anyway, it's not the most important thing in the world.

In the event of a tied vote in the EAC, the appeal is to fall - which I think is fair enough, as the majority did not vote for the appeal in this case, only half did.

Finally, I don't like the idea of the "ACP" at all - that removes power from the students - something that HUU should be giving to the students. I would much rather leave the election appeals in the capable hands of students than in some independant non-student who really don't know how the student body really works.

What I'd like to know is, why was Jamie Scudamore disqualified if it wasn't for canvassing - surely as the electroate we have a right to know this, even if the disqualification was overturned? Transparency is the key to any election...

John Wilding said...

I have just realised that it may not have been fair to lump Mr. Hamilton in with the previous regimes of Hull C.F.. If he considers himself separate, I apologise, and based on that, some of my assumptions about his character may not have been accurate, so for that I would also apologise.

John Wilding said...

More dirt has come out about Jamie Scudamore. Apparently, he has a brother, Tom, who regularly whips animals.
(To understand this joke, please Google "Tom Scudamore"),

Iain said...

Can I just point out that nothing done by any campaign in this election could possibly be described as intimidating. Politics isn't a walk in the park. Everyone is an adult. If they can't hack it, they shouldn't take part.

John Wilding said...

I don't think that physical violence should be a part of civilized politics, so I don't agree with that. I would agree with that "take it or get out" thing 9 times out of 10, but not in this instance, if indeed it is true that violence was a part.

John Wilding said...

I think David's report is pretty good, and I'd go along with it. You're right about taking it out of the hands of students. But I really thought that the system would do the opposite.