The Durham Students’ Union (DSU) has revealed that the disqualified Re-Open Nominations (RON) option won 58% of first-preference votes in February’s Officer and Trustee elections.
During the election, a complaint was made regarding RON, against “a member of the campaign team for the candidate Re-Open Nominations […] had access to the data, held by the University because they are also a member of University staff”.
In a subsequent investigation, reviewed by the External Returning officer, Peter Robertson, the Acting Chief Executive of NUS, the complaint was upheld and RON’s votes did not contribute to the count or to the final result.
The election used the single transferable vote system. However, votes for RON were not transferred to the voters’ second preference but removed entirely.
According to the DSU, this was because “the software does not allow transfer of first preference votes for RON but the decision to remove the candidate still needed to be implemented. The votes were therefore removed and not transferred.”
This year’s election attracted significant controversy. The SU Assembly on 12th March was subject to protests by Durham University Labour Club, who held banners saying “Defend Democracy”.
In a statement online, the DSU acknowledged the controversial nature of the election and its result, saying “the significance of the RON campaign for Durham SU can’t be overstated – it will set our agenda for the foreseeable future.
“We hope students will want to engage constructively in conversation, argument and discussion to help us move forward – because it’s our intention to do so.”
4311 students voted, and turnout for the elections was 19.2%, a 5% increase on last year. The DSU also released a breakdown of voting figures for the officer elections, but did not disclose the number of votes which RON received in each.
President-elect Seun Twins won 1199 votes, Nailah Haque received 854 votes to become Undergraduate Academic Officer, and incoming Postgraduate Academic Officer Sarah McAllister won 1041 votes. Anna Marshall, the sole candidate for Opportunities Officer after RON was disqualified, won 1709 votes. Ewan Swift won 1299 votes, defeating incumbent Welfare and Opportunities Officer Amelia McLoughlan.
Ensharah Soda, SU Trustee for Term 1, received 947 votes, and Max Kirk received 806 votes to be Trustee for Term 2.
In a statement to Palatinate, Opportunities Officer-elect Marshall said: “These results have shown me that I have a duty to represent those that voted for me. The role of Opportunities Officer received more votes than any other election except for the Welfare & Liberation Officer, which suggests to me that whilst students have an issue with the SU, these are jobs which people believe in, and need to be done.
“I am here to achieve a more accessible, more sustainable and more successful Student Union – I am not going to give up an opportunity to make the differences which I believe Durham Students deserve. I have made my opposition to this RON decision known, but I will be using my time in office to focus on reforming the SU and ensuring that this doesn’t happen again.
“When I start this role in July, we’ll all need to be working together to make sure that for 2020-21, Durham comes back as strong as ever before.”
Image: Maddie Flisher