OUSU in trouble over Mi-Voice handling

Colleges have been left in confusion after OUSU withdrew the online voting system Mi-Voice without informing JCRs, failing to get an alternative system up and running in time for the new term.

The Student Union’s failure to renew the service’s subscription — following difficulties with the system over the botched NUS referendum vote in May — also means that, for colleges whose constitution only permits an online vote, JCR elections have had to be postponed. Somerville and Oriel, who were hoping to hold JCR elections in second week, have had to opt for a paper ballot system.

Wadham’s SU, meanwhile, has had to postpone elections due to take place this week. Andrew McKay, who is currently assuming Returning Officer (RO) responsibilities following the resignation of Vice President Alex Walker, explained that nobody on last year’s committee was informed of the fact that the Mi-Voice subscription would be cancelled. He confirmed to Cherwell that he submitted an official complaint over OUSU President Louis Trup’s handling of the situation.

He stated, “We feel particularly let down by OUSU that we weren’t properly informed of this change. It has caused a great deal of inconvenience and means that we go into week two without being able to elect a Vice President or a Charities, Environment and Ethics Officer which are both important positions on our SU. We want to know why common rooms were seemingly not informed of this change.”

After making a complaint to OUSU, the Student Union suggested that they hold no responsibility for common room elections, as each common room is independent.

In response, McKay told Cherwell, “Given OUSU do provide common rooms with the platform upon which they elect officers, they should have informed us that they were cancelling the subscription and moving to a new system. By not doing this properly, they have caused much disruption in the common rooms that they are meant to represent.”

McKay added, “Because we were not informed of the cancellation of Mi-Voice, we couldn’t complete the election for a Vice President, which means we are still Vice President-less two weeks into term.”

Wadham is not alone in their frustrations. St Edmund Hall RO, Omar Rana, commented, “It is very annoying to see that Mi-Voice, which is an essential resource used by Teddy Hall to administer our elections, has failed to work, without there being any communication with JCR returning officers, whatsoever. I hope that whatever went wrong will be resolved as soon as possible”. However, another JCR Returning Officer, who wished to remain anonymous was more critical: “It is just intolerable. My JCR isn’t alone in relying on the Mi-Voice software to conduct our elections smoothly and Louis Trup’s failure to notify us in a timely order has meant that we are having to change the rules in a needlessly rushed and chaotic way”

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In a statement, Trup explained, “Our mistake was in not being more transparent about the work going on to make this happen. We apologise to the colleges for any inconvenience caused and will notify you as soon as the elections module is available.”

Meanwhile, Somerville were hoping to hold an election on Thursday of second week for a new Domestic Officer, planning to run the election online. However, after discovering the loss of Mi-Voice, Somerville’s JCR Returning Officer Joe Smith told Cherwell that the “contingency plan was to run a paper ballot”. 

He explained, “Regrettably, no nominations were received for the position anyway so we’re going to be re-running the ballot in third week. I am in contact with OUSU over whether an online system will be rolled out in time. If not, we will have no choice but to run a paper ballot again.

“In terms of the delay in renewing the online system, I have been told that it is due to the University’s encountering difficulties in releasing the data to OUSU so that it can roll a new online system out to colleges.”

Oriel were also hoping to run an election for their Facilities Officer this week. RO George Wiffin told Oriel JCR, “When I went to create the Facilities Election yesterday on Mi-Voice it told me that our lease ran out in August. This lease is given to us from OUSU, but when contacted yesterday evening, they replied telling us that ‘it’s not up and running yet, but will be by Sixth Week’, which isn’t exactly helpful.”

After looking at alternatives, Wiffin decided to “run the election using a ballot box the ol’ fashioned way”.

OUSU’s cancellation of its subscription to the e-voting service Mi-Voice — a service previously used by both colleges and OUSU for online elections — follows an incident last May when the NUS referendum election result was declared void after electoral malpractice came to light.

However, OUSU has admitted it did not intend for JCRs to be without a replacement online system at the beginning of term. OUSU President Louis Trup told Cherwell, “OUSU was working on a new and secure voting system over the long vac and had hoped to be able to launch it during Fresher’s Week. 

“Unfortunately, this has not been possible due to the complexities of the data and its ownership. We have put all available resources into resolving the issues as soon as possible.”

Speaking to affected colleges, Trup assured students that a replacement system would be working “in the coming days. In the meantime, we will be discussing the issue with common room presidents this week and our Democratic Support Officer will be available to provide advice.”

The University itself was quick to remind OUSU of their responsibilities to ensure elections run smoothly. A spokesperson told Cherwell, “The University Proctors take student democracy and the legitimacy of student democratic processes very seriously. OUSU is responsible for those processes and is keeping the Proctors updated on what steps it is taking to ensure the fair and transparent conduct of elections this year.”

A similar situation threatens to causes difficulties at Brasenose, where elections for the role of JCR President are scheduled to take place on Tuesday of Third Week. Their constitution states, “Voting will be by means of the online Mi-Voice system between 9am and 7pm on the day in question.”

Brasenose’s RO and JCR President were both however unavailable for comment.