Outcome of Elections appeal

The Democracy Committee has received an appeal against its ruling on the conduct of the Mathematics (UG) Rep Ballot, held as part of the SU Michaelmas Elections.

The Committee has resolved that the election was overall fairly conducted and that the results announced on 20th November should stand. However, the appeal raises several important points about the conduct of elections which the Committee takes very seriously, and which we will look to address as part of the process of continuous improvement of the SU’s democratic processes. Future conclusions about changes to be made after feedback from this round of elections will be published, as are all Democracy Committee minutes. The next meeting of the Committee is scheduled for Friday 11th December.

The appeal also makes constructive suggestions about future conduct of elections and changes to processes, many of which are reflective of the Committee’s views about improvements to be made in advance of future elections. Detailed responses to these are given below, and the Returning Officer has requested a meeting with a student from the group of appellants to discuss in further detail these concerns.

Handling of an error in the closing time of polls

The Committee has made a previous statement about an error in the closing time of the election due to human error in configuring the election on the online system. The Committee has accepted that this was unfortunate and regrets that it happened. The next meeting of the Committee will discuss processes that could be put in place to make this kind of error less likely, such as (for example) a formalised process by which two people verify the election details.

Communication of information about the election

The appeal raises concerns that students might not have understood how to cast their votes, reporting that some students were not aware that they could rank all the candidates in preference order and were not limited by the number of posts for election. The instructions available to students at the point of voting (known as the ballot rubric) were as follows:

You have one vote.
Number the candidates in order of preference.
If at any stage you believe the candidates you have not yet numbered are unsuitable for the position, number Re-Open Nominations (R.O.N.).
If at any stage you become indifferent to the remaining options, click the No Further Preferences (N.F.P.) button.

It is the committee’s view that this provided sufficient information to cast a ballot in the election. Further information on voting and the count system was available from the main voting page, linked as “Voting System”.

However, the Committee accepts that there may be different wordings of the ballot rubric that would be clearer to students, and especially to those unfamiliar with preferential voting systems. This will therefore be reviewed.

Handling of candidate disqualification

The Committee’s previous statement provided an explanation of the process for candidate disqualification under the Single Transferable Vote, whereby the disqualification of a candidate does not require changes to the ballot since a voter’s preferences can be transferred at no disadvantage to the influence of the voter. Nevertheless, all eligible voters were notified of the disqualification via email to their university email address by the Faculty of Mathematics. This was actioned immediately after the decision to disqualify the candidate. 

Student Consultation on Website Design

The appeal reports that there were issues with the website user interface which made it unintuitive to use. Feedback received on the elections interface will be a part of the Democracy Committee’s review of the elections, and conclusions will be fed back to the SU’s website design team.

The elections platform is used by a number of students’ unions in the UK and RoI, with only the styling and a limited set of configurable settings being unique to Cambridge SU. A test ballot and then smaller scale elections for SU campaign positions were conducted earlier in the Michaelmas Term, with feedback from those implemented in time for the main Michaelmas Elections. Further User Experience testing of the website is planned for the Lent Term, which will include looking at the elections platform. The SU will work to implement the findings of this work, feedback from members, and other testing jointly with the platform provider.