A JCR motion calling for the introduction of an anonymous online voting system was voted down at St Catz.
The motion appealed to change the current procedure of voting at the open meeting into “a vote via the JCR website” and to extend the voting period into a full day from “9am on the day after the meeting until 10pm the following day.” The JCR IT rep would be responsible for supervising the online vote and the results would be “posted on the JCR website and emailed to the JCR by the secretary or IT rep within 48 hours of the poll closing.”
Ashleigh Ainsley, St Catz Access Rep and proposer of the motion, told Cherwell the motion aimed to combat “low attendance at open meetings.” He explained, “It was prompted by discussions with members of the JCR body who are unable to attend open meetings because of work commitments or other reasons. It also stemmed from controversial motions where people have felt pressured to vote because of their friends asking them to vote for or against.”
The motion itself was voted on via secret online ballot. 84 votes came through the internet, compared with the 35 votes made at the open meeting. Within the 84 votes, there were 50 for, 33 against, and 1 abstention. The motion failed to pass because a constitutional amendment demands a two-thirds majority of votes.
Opposition was mainly centred on the inefficiency of the system. Benson Egwuonwu, an ex-JCR President and third-year Law student, criticised the unnecessary slowdown of JCR affairs posed by the motion, stating, “By waiting at least 48 hours for voting results after every Open Meeting, JCR officers could miss the opportunity to raise concerns at various meetings with college staff, some of which are held before the voting results would even be released.”
Egwuonwu continued, “There is a place for secret online ballots, for instance to consult students’ opinions about certain topics, or where the subject for debate is too complicated to frame in a motion. Otherwise, online secret ballots should be the exception, and not the rule. It is absolutely true that a JCR needs consent from students to function legitimately, but a JCR also needs to operate efficiently, and in this respect, the compulsory secret ballot motion would have been an encumbrance, rather than an advantage.”
Another contentious issue is whether online voting would affect the attendance of Open Meetings and the quality of debates if people were not required to show up to have their votes counted.
Mike Livesey, who seconded the motion, told Cherwell, “I am unsure whether allowing online voting for JCR motions would reduce turnouts and debates at Open Meetings. He conceded that “there is some credence in the fear that voters might be less inclined to vote upon an informed standpoint. The minutes of the Open Meeting would be circulated prior to voting, but that does not guarantee that every voter will read them. However, I believe the benefits of widening participation in the life of the college for Catz students vastly outweigh this comparably small pragmatic point.”