Union elections marred by voting blunder

Rai Saad Khan was not elected to the Secretary's Committee, despite winning more votes than his closest rival

Khan (front, centre) was running as part of Stephen Horvath's 'Ignite' slate

A candidate in last week’s Oxford Union elections has been denied a spot on the Secretary’s Committee despite winning more votes than his nearest rival.

According to initial results Rai Saad Khan, who was running on the ‘Ignite’ slate, was narrowly beaten to the final position on the committee by ‘Reform’ candidate Mo Iman.

However, last night the Union’s returning officer stumbled upon a spreadsheet error which had undervalued Khan’s votes, meaning he should have been elected.

As no complaint was registered in the 48 hours following the close of the poll, the society said it would not amend the results to the correct outcome – a decision which prompted Khan to question “the democratic nature of the Union”.

Last week saw the first contested Union presidential election in five terms, with the race for Secretary’s Committee also being remarkably competitive.

Only the first eleven of over twenty candidates would make it onto the committee, and the results announced on Saturday morning showed that Iman had just pipped Khan to the final spot.

However, last night a mistake with the vote count was discovered. In a document outlining what happened, the returning officer said he had “discovered an error in the Excel spreadsheet formula for vote change for Rai Saad Khan.

“I subsequently went through the spreadsheet to investigate whether there were any further errors, and also produced a corrected version,” he said. “I asked an ex-Returning Officer trained in using STV [Single Transferrable Voting] to independently confirm this.”

He discovered that Khan should have had a vote value of 86.298 by the final round. Mo Iman, meanwhile, only had a vote value of 81.490. As such, Iman should have been eliminated in the final round, with Khan taking his place on Secretary’s Committee.

Despite this error being clear and the returning officer labelling it “an injustice”, he concluded he could not change the result. Union Rule 33(b)(vii)(1) states that the Returning Officer may order a recount if an error is brought to his attention within 48 hours of the close of the poll, meaning the deadline had long passed when the mistake was discovered.

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Rai Saad Khan told Cherwell: “I deeply regret the turn of events, and sincerely hope Mo resigns on his own accord, as it is unfair for all those who are elected on committee and those who didn’t get elected.”

Khan also expressed his frustration at the Union’s rules. He told Cherwell: “Rules such as 33b vii(1) that still exist within the Union highly call into the question the democratic nature of the Union, and it is deeply troubling that all malpractices or violation of elections laws are protected beyond a 48 hour period, such that even when evidence of a miscount or illegal electorial acts do arise, the elected members are protected at the cost of ordinary members and voters.

“This rule is made to benefit the elected members, and is another sign of prestige and inequality within the Union that needs to be changed.”

The returning officer of the Oxford Union did not wish to comment.

The electoral blunder follows reports of infighting at the upper echelons of the society.

In a recent meeting of the Union’s Standing Committee, outgoing Secretary and defeated presidential candidate Molly Greenwood accused President Laali Vadlamani of acting “very unprofessionally on many levels”.

Tensions had first been raised early on Monday morning, when the agenda for the meeting detailed Greenwood’s intention to make a statement regarding “the unacceptable conduct of the President, Laali Vadlamani”.

However, when she stated her intention to read this out, there was an objection from the sitting Librarian, Sabriyah Saeed. She referred to Standing Order B6, stating that the agenda had not been sent out in due time by the Secretary and thus that Greenwood’s statement should not be heard.

Greenwood argued that the President had already made statements which were not highlighted on the agenda, such as accusing Greenwood of the “serious offence” of failing to provide minutes of previous meetings on time.

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The objection was seconded by Treasurer – and winner of last week’s presidential election against Greenwood – Stephen Horvath. This meant the statement could not be made, as per Union rules.

After this heated exchange, it seemed that Greenwood had been silenced. However, when Horvath proposed a vote of thanks to President Vadlamani, referencing her efforts to improve the diversity of speakers at the Union, Greenwood made an objection on the grounds that she had “acted very unprofessionally on many levels”.

The vote of thanks went on to pass immediately with no further opposition, and the fractious meeting was brought to an end.

Saeed, who first objected to the reading out of Greenwood’s statement, told Cherwell: “I believed that it was improper for this business to be brought to Standing Committee and under standing order B6 I exercised my right to object to it being brought forward.

“The reason B6 is not always invoked where it might be is due to the fact that the Standing Committee often needs to deal with business arising less than 48 hours prior to the meeting, and in such cases the invocation of B6 would prevent it from acting on its duty towards the general membership.”

Vadlamani and Greenwood declined to comment.

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