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SU candidates express concern over alleged secret slate

Cherwell has investigated allegations that a secret slate coordinated endorsements across various SU campaigns – a tactic that is strictly forbidden by the SU. This follows the SU Campaign Class Act having to withdraw its endorsements due to “a degree of unfairness” in the endorsement process and the President-Elect, Addi Haran, stating that she was asked by the newly elected VP for Welfare, Alfie Davis, to join a slate last October. Multiple presidential candidates have since expressed their disappointment with the election to Cherwell. After publication Alfie contacted Cherwell denying any claims of a slate. 

Campaigning for the SU elections began on 31 January and ended yesterday, on 8 February, after four days of voting. During the electoral process, seven SU campaigns released official endorsements, which all included people from a group of six candidates. The only exception was former presidential candidate Shermar Pryce, who was endorsed by CRAE (Campaign for Racial Awareness and Equality). 

Three out of the six candidates endorsed by multiple campaigns were elected Sabbatical officers: Eleanor Miller for VP UG Education and Access, Joel Aston for VP Liberation and Equality, and Alfie Davis for VP Welfare. The other two candidates – Elliot (Riz) Possnett for SU President and Luca Di Bona for VP Activities and Communities – lost their Sabbatical races but were elected NUS delegates. Harry McWilliam was elected student trustee. 

Less than five hours before the voting closed, SU Campaign Class Act had to rescind its endorsements due to “a degree of unfairness” in the endorsement process and a breach of the election regulations. The endorsements were conveyed in an email sent on Monday, 5 January and told members: “We strongly encourage you to vote … for the following candidates as your first preferences,” followed by a list of the six people mentioned above. 

Regarding the endorsements, Davis said that “If any other candidates had indeed bothered to turn up to any of the open, democratic meetings held by any of the campaigns they could have, but they instead chose not to – that’s why they weren’t endorsed. It is not the fault of any candidates who were endorsed by a campaign that other candidates apparently didn’t care enough about the experiences of said groups to attend and listen to their perspectives.”

Furthermore, Davis stated that “The only real ‘evidence’ regarding these claims that isn’t pure speculation comes from the SU investigator, who has completed a full investigation and found zero evidence of any wrongdoing.”

Possnett said that they had been in frequent communication with RO Joe Bell regarding the investigation into the Class Act endorsement process: “I offered my full cooperation to assist in any way possible, and on his advice immediately removed any posts about that endorsement from my page – except for those which were ‘summaries’ of all endorsements.”

They also stated: “[T]hat being said, if I become aware of any incidents of impropriety, I will condemn them unconditionally; I believe in fairness, and I intend to uphold it however I can; I hope the same is true of all other candidates.”

SU President-Elect Addi Haran spoke to Cherwell, claiming that VP Welfare-Elect Alfie Davis tried to recruit her for a joint slate earlier in the academic year. 

Haran provided Cherwell with messages from September wherein Davis suggested they form a slate together: “I mean if you wanna do a like low-key slate type thing u know I’m down,” the messages read, alleging that the same was done by “hacks” in the previous year. Davis sent a further message to Haran in October which read: “Currently running I think Joel is gonna do equalities Eleanor academic and guy the enviro one which is a bit niche if anti union white queers but also would be a rly good team so.”

Haran explained her decision: “I declined the offer, because I think slates are bad for the democratic process even, and perhaps more, if they are private instead of the public slates we are used to – because then independent candidates will struggle, but if they are private then the voters can’t factor in the connection between the candidates to their decision making.”

In a statement to Cherwell, Davis accused Haran of running a smear campaign against them since the election began and said “I have never been part of a slate during any stage of the electoral process.”

Section 16 of the SU’s Election rules states that “Candidates must not combine into slates, which are groups of candidates who endorse each other and/or share campaign materials.” Returning Officer Joe Bell sent out an email after campaigns made posts advertising all endorsements in the same image: “to prevent confusion by voters I would suggest not reposting such images from now on.”

The email also reiterated that “[s]lates are banned. There should be no coordination of election campaigns between candidates, nor any formalised pacts. As I explained in the Candidate Briefing, whilst you may support each other as friends, as candidates you must be vigilant as to any risk of presenting yourselves to others as if you endorse each other…My interest, as yours should be, is ensuring no one unwittingly misunderstands your election campaigns, or unwittingly commits electoral malpractice.” 

When asked for comment on these allegations, former presidential candidate Isaac Chase-Rahman stated that he had “good reason to believe there have been multiple worrying cases of electoral malpractice in this election that have not been addressed properly.”

Another former presidential candidate Tim Green commented that “[i]t seems highly unlikely that the exact same six candidates could be endorsed by so many campaigns. What the ‘slate’ appeared to be doing was reposting the ‘endorsements’ from the SU campaigns which very conveniently had pictures of all of the members of the slate.” He added further that “[i]t is an insult to the rest of the candidates who ran what was in my view otherwise a very good-natured and policy-focused election. Policies, not slates, should be what wins elections.”

Regarding the alleged bias in campaign endorsements, former VP Activities and Communities candidate Di Bona stated: “I don’t think it’s a surprise that so many campaigns chose to endorse me following what, in every case, I believe to have been a fair and democratic process – but it’s also worth noting that not all campaigns that chose to endorse candidates for the elections chose to endorse me.” 

Possnett also said that “to the best of my knowledge, all SU Campaign endorsement opportunities were publicised openly, and all candidates were welcome and encouraged to participate.”

Candidates were also outraged by Davis’ characterisation of the group as “anti union white queers”. Former presidential candidate Pryce said that he had been aware of rumours that there might have been a slate, but stated that “[Davis’s message] highlighting their whiteness is deeply problematic and concerning, especially as potential sabbatical officers who are elected to represent all of Oxford.”

He further explained: “As a non-white person, hearing that a candidate used whiteness to classify themselves, and that they might have recruited white people on that basis to their slate is frightening. This is especially disturbing given they campaigned so strongly on inclusivity whilst, supposedly, simultaneously excluding people of colour.” 

Di Bona said that they did not recall having heard the phrase “anti union white queers” at any time in the past from anyone, stating that they were uncomfortable with the characterisation and saying “I hope everyone who voted for me did so because of my policies and experience in delivering change.”

They congratulated the VP Activities and Community-Elect Alisa Brown on running a great campaign: “I’m sure she’ll do a great job as Vice President – I wish her, and all the sabbatical-elects the best of luck.”

Aston further states: “I was never part of a slate; in fact I hadn’t decided to run until the day before nominations closed (Wednesday the 24th of January) and I had been to the SU ‘ask anything’ stall – yes, for a free hot chocolate, but also to ask about the role and what the election process was like.”

Davis has also since told Cherwell that “[t]he attempt to obscure and decontextualise my statement is deeply, deeply shameful. There has been zero mention that: I was being asked who was thinking of running by Addi and provided a list of such [and] I was pointing out all the interested candidates were ‘white queers’, raising my concerns over the lack of diversity in this potential team. Any claims that I was stating these characteristics as a positive, required features for success are entirely false, defamatory, and based on absolutely no evidence.”

Haran had messaged Davis a month prior to them sending said list, asking: “Do you know who else could possibly be running?” During this initial conversation, Davis had suggested the potential “low-key slate type thing.”

The SU responded by saying that the deadline for complaints had expired, and that all submitted complaints had been fully investigated and resolved, finding no wrongdoing in the endorsements process. Regarding the results, the SU stated that “The RO has called the result and is satisfied that the election was free and fair. Students may submit complaints related to the count up until 21:00 today, 9 Feb.”

Cherwell has contacted Miller and McWilliam for comment. This article is continuously being updated with new developments and comments.

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