AUU Election Tribunal Letter
To: Anne Hewitt (Convener) and the AUU Election Tribunal
Cc: The AUU Board, the general student population
Dear Ms Anne Hewitt,
I wish to begin by echoing the AUU itself in thanking you for your thorough and rigorous review of the 2018 student elections. Your role is an oft overlooked but utterly vital one.
I write not to call your determination into question, as it is final and I respect your authority. Rather I seek to try and understand a particular component of your decision and to aide both the incoming and outgoing board as they go about the normal process of reflecting on the election and pondering if anything can be done better in the future.
You made the decision to exclude Mr Zihan “Leo” Liu from the election. I am not privy to the same facts and information as you and as such do not question the appropriateness of this decision, and I shall take his exclusion as a given.
However the manner in which you excluded him, I fear unnecessarily punishes voters who gave one of their preferences to Leo and the rest to someone else. They made the choice to participate in the election and should not have their voices ignored because of Leo’s wrongdoing.
Fundamentally there are three ways to exclude a candidate from an election. You examined two of these options in sections 11, 12, 13, and 17 of your declaration but did not appear to consider the third.
The first, which you decided against (and as a student who likes to walk campus uninterrupted I thank you for this) is to void the election and send everyone back to the polls. This is an extreme measure to be used only in the most dire of circumstances, where said candidates actions have irrevocably distorted the entire election. You found this to be unnecessary and that it would needlessly punish other candidates who campaigned within the rules. I concur with you on this.
The second option, which you decided to exercise, is to exclude the candidate after the count and simply move to the next candidate on the scrutiny sheet, in this case, Mr Goh. This is the option provided for in the event of a casual vacancy emerging on the board during the course of a board’s term.
The problem with this option is that it effectively treats the election as though the votes for the candidate never existed rather than acting as though the candidate never did. It punishes the voters as much as the candidate.
Which is where the third option comes in. This is the option that the Court of Disputed Returns uses when declaring a senator was not eligible to be nominated, we all saw it exercised repeatedly during the citizenship crises. Basically, it’s a recount, but where Leo is excluded first and his preferences flow on as normal.
The beauty of Hare-Clarke and the preferential system is that we can simulate what would have happened if a given candidate did not stand, or at least a close approximation. This allows the students who voted for Leo to be represented, while still sending a clear message to those who would breach the election rules.
We don’t know what outcome would have resulted from a recount. Goh may still have been elected, someone else from International Voice might have gotten up, or another faction entirely may have benefited. It doesn’t really matter what the outcome would have been, because when it comes to elections the process matters far more than the outcome.
Now you may have a considered this option and decided against it for some unstated or confidential reason, but I honestly struggle to think of one. Perhaps you simply didn’t think of it, or perhaps you felt it wasn’t within your power to order. In any case your decision is final and ought to be respected by everyone. As to do otherwise damages the legitimacy of the AUU Board.
As such my mind naturally turns to how the AUU can do better in the future. I suggest that this or a future AUU board consider two reforms to better equip the Tribunal to navigate situations similar to this one, though I hope another never arises.
First that the Tribunal be explicitly empowered to order an exclusion and recount, alongside their section 48 power to void an election. More tools in the belt gives more options and the ability to better tailor solutions to problems.
The second reform is to create a submission window where interested parties can give their two cents on what remedy the Tribunal should apply. This would function by having the Tribunal make a finding of fact and a provisional finding of remedy, and then interested groups and individuals would have the option of making submissions, not on the findings of fact but on the proposed remedy.
The Tribunal is made up of talented legal minds, who would be able to quickly tell the difference between a well put argument made in good faith, and a self-serving power play. Given the incredibly long window between the election and the assumption of office there is plenty of time for a reasonable submission window and consideration of all options.
Elections are tricky, and StuPol can be needlessly vicious. We need rules, oversight, and ultimately discipline to keep students within the rules. But when rules are broken it should be those who broke them that are punished, not the voters.
I understand that the Tribunal will be unable to respond to my letter, which is why I send it openly, in the hopes that we work out how to better equip the Tribunal for elections in the future.