Electoral malpractice plagues NUS referendum

Bewilderment amongst students as rule-breaking continues

Image: Harry Gosling

The referendum on Oxford’s affiliation to the NUS has descended into chaos with allegations of electoral malpractice on both sides.

At New College, the JCR mailing list has been used to circulate pro-NUS arguments despite a ban on such use of JCR mailing lists by OUSU referendum regulations.

In another mailing-list slip-up, the NUS made use of their own NUS cardholder mailing list to circulate pro-NUS arguments earlier this week, despite this being specifically banned by OUSU’s returning officer for this campaign. The Yes-side have stressed that these were both innocent mistakes.

In Christ Church, meanwhile, No Thanks NUS posters were found to have been ripped apart. No campaigners are not entirely innocent, however, as Yes to NUS leaflets were reportedly obscured by No-side leaflets in Merton.

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Regarding the email sent to NUS extra cardholders, an NUS spokesman said, “An email was sent to NUS Extra card holders who signed up to receive further communication from NUS. We feel we have a duty to inform card holders they will no longer be able to access this service should students vote for their union to disaffiliate from NUS.”

The NUS have since changed their position and will send out an apology to the same mailing list later today.

Becky Howe, leader of Yes to NUS and OUSU President, “We got in touch with the RO as soon as we became aware of the email, and we worked with her and NUS to ensure that the NUS sent out an apology.”

These allegations follow on from a violation by the New College JCR access officer, who emailed pro-NUS arguments to the mailing list. Campaigning via JCR mailing lists is forbidden by OUSU regulations.

Becky Howe told Cherwell that using the “New JCR mailing list was an innocent mistake that was then immediately rectified working with the RO and No thanks NUS.”

A spokesman from the Yes side further said, “While it’s clear that staying in the NUS is the best choice for access, this was unfortunately against the regulations. The access rep in question was not on our campaign list, and likely not familiar with OUSU rules.”

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The No-side responded, “We were made aware of the breach of the rules quite quickly as we have a number of supporters at New College and were disappointed to learn about it. We would urge the Yes side to respect the rules, particularly in light of concerns raised at other referenda in other SUs”, a spokesman for the campaign said.

Anna Mowbray, the OUSU returning officer, has attempted to resolve this issue by sending a second email detailing the arguments of the ‘No Thanks NUS’ side to the same mailing list.

Aside from controversy over mailing lists, there has been allegations of petty behaviour concerning posters. Louis McEvoy, who originally put up the Christ Church ‘No Thanks NUS’ posters which were later torn down, told Cherwell, “Clearly [disaffiliation] is an important decision and I strongly believe that both sides should be listened to and considered; it’s a real shame that some on the Yes side don’t share this belief. I mean, above all else, ripping up posters is just a terribly petty and childish thing to do.”

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Louis McEvoy broke OUSU rules himself by posting on Christ Church JCR Facebook group on Tuesday, “Don’t forget to vote in the NUS referendum today (unless you want to stay in. In which case, feel free to forget).” This breaks OUSU rules because it involves campaigning in closed groups.

Anna Mowbray, OUSU returning officer, confirmed this was a violation of the rules and said, “We have hopefully resolved the issue with the Christ Church Facebook page informally.”

Anne Cremin, leader of the No Thanks NUS maintained that the No-side mistakes have been innocent, while the Yes-side have been “flagrant violations”.

“Louis’ rule break was unfortunate but an innocent mistake – he isn’t officially involved with No Thanks NUS and wasn’t aware of the rules. As soon as we were informed of the post on the Christ Church page we contacted him to get him to remove it and the matter was dealt with quickly and efficiently.”

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Though, the No side took a less forgiving tone with the NUS’s email violation. “We are disappointed by what appears to be a flagrant violation of the rules by the NUS. The NUS has demonstrated that it has no respect for the democratic rules of our student union”.

Voting for the referendum closes tomorrow (Thursday 2 June) at 6pm. Results will be released at 7.30pm the same day.

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