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Oxford Union tribunal upholds Hilary election after ruling on seven allegations of electoral malpractice

The Oxford Union has released a report detailing the judgements of a tribunal that considered seven allegations of electoral malpractice. The tribunal upheld the results of the election and found no evidence of electoral interference by the Returning Officers (ROs). In the course of the investigations, both President-elect Ebrahim Osman-Mowafy and candidate Chris Collins were found guilty of making “vexatious claims” and fined £100. 

Last term’s election saw Osman-Mowafy elected Union President for Michaelmas Term 2024 with four more votes than the runner-up, Collins. Campaigning was especially fierce with three slates competing for votes under newly-instated rules that regulate online campaigning. 

The tribunal noted an increase in litigation, asserting that most previous elections have only led to two or fewer allegations. They attributed the high number of allegations in Hilary term to a rise in “vexatious claims” and continued that “the quantity of claims does not necessarily reflect any material change in the conduct of elections.”

In the first allegation, Mikael Toosy accused Alexandra Duckworth of abusing her powers as an RO in the Oxford University Conservative Association (OUCA) to schedule its elections on the same day as the Union’s elections in order to benefit certain candidates. 

Toosy submitted a statement by OUCA President-elect Matty Brown as part of his evidence. Brown tried to retract his statement by claiming it was “procured through duress and deceit”, but the Tribunal found him guilty of making a submission “he knew to be untrue” and suspended his Union membership for Trinity Term. Duckworth was found not guilty.

Additionally, Toosy used case law to support his arguments which prompted the ROs to note: “Parties may be best served by reliance on the Panel’s understanding of straightforward and basic terminology in the English language” and further observed that “detailed references to criminal case law when a reference to the Oxford English Dictionary would perhaps suffice should be avoided.”

The second allegation was Osman-Mowafy accusing Deputy RO Adam Turner of a “motivated attempt to invalidate candidates”, referring to the initial disqualification of 21 candidates from his and Israr Khan’s slates.

The RO that made the relevant decision, Kit Newbold, testified that Turner’s advice to go ahead with the disqualifications had not hindered them in any way. Since Osman-Mowafy’s accusation was that he had hindered electoral officials, Turner was found not guilty.

Additionally, Osman-Mowafy accused Turner of ‘abusing the forms of house’ during a public business motion, but the tribunal accepted the defendant’s assertion that he had acted in accordance with the rules. Osman-Mowafy was found guilty of making vexatious claims and ordered to pay a fine of £100.

The report noted that they were “extremely concerned” that Mowafy brought forward a claim that was “so easily demonstrated to be incorrect” and further advised that the President-elect “makes a more detailed study of the forms of the institution over which he will ultimately preside.”

In the fifth allegation, Collins accused Newbold, who was in charge of the count, of misinterpreting (though in good faith) the rules of the Union which affected the election’s outcome. The Tribunal noted that the election had been exceptionally tight, with Osman Mowafy defeating Collins by three votes in the initial count and four votes in the final count. 

Collins argued that Newbold should have suspended the count and referred the matter to the Tribunal when they discovered that three unstamped ballots were cast. The tribunal found this to be an “impractical expectation.” He also argued that Newbold’s interpretations of certain contested ballots were unreasonable, which the tribunal rejected after taking a closer look at the 17 ballots in question. In fact, the re-examination found that Osman Mowafy had won by a difference of five votes rather than four.   

The Tribunal upheld the election results and found Newbold not guilty of any charges. 

In the seventh allegation, Collins accused Osman-Mowafy and others of conspiring to commit electoral malpractice by “making use of any electronic or online system” to solicit votes, and “[communicating] illicit statements”. The tribunal did not agree that the instances cited, including messaging on the Oxford Union Graduates group chat or holding a birthday party in the Union bar, violated their rules or amounted to a case. Furthermore, the tribunal noted that there was no evidence submitted to back up the charge of conspiracy and Osman-Mowafy described the allegation as “frivilous and malicious”. Collins was fined £100 for vexatious claims.

Ex-access officer Theo Sergiou filed the final allegation, which accused the entire RO team of neglecting to make the election accessible to those with disabilities. It was not considered by the Tribunal due to its submission after the deadline. 

Sergiou stated that elections were inaccessible for candidates due to compressed timelines and voters due to a lack of provisions for proxy voters and those with visual disabilities. 

The Panel did not discuss the allegation in detail as it was not submitted in time but stated that they are “assured that all such complaints are taken extremely seriously and are dealt with at the highest levels of the Society’s governance structures.”

When asked for comment on the proceedings as a whole, the Union responded: “We have full confidence in our disciplinary proceedings relating to the most recent election and look forward to putting on an exciting term card for our members in Trinity.”

Cherwell also notes that there were 3 additional allegations covered in the Tribunal’s proceedings which were not reported on because they were either in camera, too personal or not relevant to the public. The full report can be found at the Union’s notice board.  

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