Provisional GU President announced after candidate disqualification

Image credit: Cambridge University Graduate Union Facebook

Cambridge University Student Union (CUSU) has announced Sofia Ropek-Hewson as the provisional winner of the GU Presidential election, following the disqualification of the contest's front-runner, Joe Cotton, by the Elections Committee. 

The result, due to be released at 7pm on Sunday alongside the results of the CUSU Elections, was pushed back due to an ongoing disciplinary investigation into ‘at least one’ candidate. The candidate, who was later named as Joe Cotton, has been disqualified by the Elections Committee for breaching the CUSU Standing Orders, Article G.10.viii. The article states that ‘no candidate or member of their campaign team, or any other person attempting to influence a voter may approach within three metre of the polling station except when they themselves are voting.’

In a statement released by the CUSU-GU Elections Committee, Cotton’s disqualification was the result of the candidate’s use of an iPad when encouraging voters to vote in the GU elections. The decision was based on steps judged to be ‘insufficient’ on Cotton’s behalf to ‘provide space to those casting ballots on the iPad he had provided’ by the Committee.

The Committee’s judgement was influenced by an inability to judge ‘to what extent this breach impacted the election results’ but recognise his efforts to make voters aware of other candidates in the election, and acknowledges a possible fault on behalf of the Elections Committee in communicating this rule. Joe Cotton has the opportunity to appeal the Election's ruling within 48 hours.

According to the voting figures before the withdrawal of his candidacy, Cotton was due to come first in the election having received 574 votes after the second round of voting. Ropek-Hewson would have received 430 votes, after the third candidate, Mrittunjoy Guha Majumdar, was eliminated after garnering 239 votes.

However, after Cotton's forced elimination, Sofia Ropek-Hewson won the most votes, with 498 to Mrittunjoy Guha Majumdar’s 295.

This year’s GU election has been fraught with complaints made against both Guha Majumdar and Cotton. The Elections Committee issued a formal warning to Cotton following a post from Wolfson College communications stating a clear preference for his candidacy. Guha Majumdar appealed against the Committee’s ruling on their receiving a series of complaints against the sending of unsolicited emails by the candidate. He was also issued with a formal warning.

In a statement to The Cambridge Student, Joe Cotton said: "I have the utmost respect for the Elections Committee and share their aim of finding a constructive solution to this issue that strengthens the legitimacy of the GU now and into the future. I will be appealing their decision, not for myself, but for the clear majority of voters that have been disregarded by this ruling. My greatest hope is that this unfortunate situation can be used to improve CUSU-GU policy on elections; specifically through the extensive development of campaign guidelines that fully inform the candidates, campaigns and colleges on election procedure. This will reduce the burden on the Elections Committee next year to provide ad-hoc rulings, and allow all students to have confidence in the fairness and legitimacy of the democratic process."

Ropek Hewson has also since commented: "I ran a fair campaign and was dismayed and frustrated by the other two candidates repeatedly breaking the rules and displaying a lack of respect for democratic elections. I really appreciate the support of everyone who voted for me, and, if the CUSU/GU Elections Committee decision is upheld, I look forward to my role as Graduate Union President and to continuing working with the graduate community. In relation to the most recent incident: disqualification is the only sanction available to the Elections Committee that doesn’t also punish fairly run campaigns – the only other option being voiding the election. We can’t possibly know how many votes the candidate obtained when breaking the election rules, so disqualification seems appropriate. This is a serious issue: not allowing secret ballots isn’t just a violation of CUSU/GU election rules, it’s a violation of common democratic practice. Equally, according to the 1994 Education Act, secret ballots are a legal requirement of ‘major student union offices".

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