The Election Tribunal investigating the Oxford Union Second Election for President has concluded that the Mi-Voice database of registered votes was improperly accessed and over 500 votes were cast illegitimately.
The Tribunal proposes that the invalid election on June 19th be resolved by carrying out an electronic re-poll in July. All 1,783 members who registered in June will be asked to cast their votes again, if the Tribunal’s decision is accepted by the Standing Committee.
The re-poll will “involve the same 4 candidates, making use of the identical manifesto material provided for the election on the 19th June 2020.” Only Union members who previously registered and were entitled to vote will be allowed to vote in the re-poll.
The Union’s Electoral Tribunal consisted of one ex-Returning Officer and qualified barrister, one ex-President, and one ex-Treasurer. Their report declared “very substantial interference with the electronic electoral roll… has been proved beyond reasonable doubt to have taken place.”
An investigation by the voting service Mi-Voice concluded that “507 block votes had, beyond reasonable doubt, their UVCs [Unique Voter Code] stolen and the votes cast without the agreement of their registered holders.”
These votes were cast from the same 7 IP addresses, with the votes cast by each ranging from 258 to 15. The investigation suggests the UVC numbers – Unique Voter Codes – were typed manually, “rather than activity by a bot.” 73% of the 1738 votes “experienced an attempt to vote from one of the 7 IP addresses during the day.”
The report states that “the most likely route was an operator making use of a generic Oxford Union email address to enter the SharePoint site and to copy the entire set of UVC codes without the knowledge of Mi-Voice or the Returning Officer.”
All block votes were cast with the 4 preferences for the candidates in the same order, which the Tribunal describes as “extremely troubling”. However, the Tribunal “does not have any evidence, whether on the balance of probability or otherwise, that the candidate who received all the first preferences in the 507 block votes was aware of, or instrumental in, securing those preference.”
Neither the voting service Mi-Voice nor the Union’s Election tribunal has been able to identify “the person or persons who carried out the illegal act of stealing the data files.”
The Election Tribunal’s decision will be subject to Standing Committee approval by July 8th. Should the Standing Committee not agree to the Tribunal’s direction, the report states that “the remainder of the 1,578 votes, following the removal of the 507 block votes, shall be counted and the preferences appropriately distributed and a result shall thereafter be declared.”
The Tribunal also directs that an Independent Security Audit by a Third Party expert shall take place of the security credentials of all the email accounts associated with the Oxford Union Society, and shall advise on whether any has been interfered with and shall further advise the extent to which it is appropriate to retain the use of generic email accounts related to the offices held in the Society.
The Oxford Union Returning Officer had previously stated that the results of the vote on June 19th would not be given after errors in the voting system mi-voice meant some members were unable to vote. Under the Union’s Standing Order D5(f), the issue was referred to an Election Tribunal.
The Standing Order in question requires that the Returning Officer “determines at any stage that further counting would be unlikely to produce a true Election result.” In this case, the Standing Order “[suspends] all requirements upon the Returning Officer regarding the Count. The ballot papers and other Count materials shall be sealed up as if the Count had been completed until the Election Tribunal is able to inspect them.”
The Returning Officer confirmed that “neither [he] nor any Union Official have any knowledge of the precise information regarding ballots cast.”
The Tribunal is obligated to “produce a declaration within 360 hours of the Close of Poll [and] a full report within 480 hours of the Close of Poll.” This means the declaration had to be announced this Saturday evening, and the full report will be released next week.
Under the Union’s rules, the Election Tribunal is set up by the Returning Officer and consists of any three members whose names are on a shortlist drafted by the Returning Officer and approved by the Standing Committee in 5th week of each term. The Union’s rules further state that “the Returning Officer and Standing Committee shall use their best efforts to ensure that at least one Member of the Election Tribunal is a qualified lawyer.”
On the morning of the election, which was called after Union members voted to Re-Open Nominations for the Union presidency, members who had registered to vote were sent an email containing a unique link and voting number.
However, some members who attempted to use the link were reportedly directed to a page informing them that their “Unique Voter Code…has already been used”. The Oxford Union’s Returning Officer directed members to Mi-Voice’s technical team, which was able to reset the unique voter code for some voting members upon request. Failure to elect an Oxford Union President is unprecedented in the society’s history.
Image credit to U.S. Department of State/ Wikimedia Commons.