Da Don’t Run RON

So, you may be asking, who won the by-election for Students’ Union President 2020–21 triggered by Mr Nuttall’s removal? The results were announced on 13 June and, um, it’s complicated! We know, thanks to the results page that 1443 valid votes were cast (only a 9% turnout), together with 5 spoilt ballots:


After that, it all gets a bit murky, courtesy of RON (Re-Open Nominations) and its controversial last-minute disqualification.

Voting for RON is, as the name suggests, a vote to void the current election and start again. The system is the alternative vote (preference voting) and RON behaves like any other candidate, so it’s possible to rank your ballot 1st preference Candidate 1, 2nd preference RON, and 3rd preference Candidate 2, for example. Usually, RON is last on first preferences, so is eliminated first. But not this year…

…because a variety of ‘RON campaigns’, both official and unofficial, were actively campaigning. It’s difficult to know how well they did because, seemingly only once polls had closed, the Returning Officer declared that RON had been disqualified due to ‘multiple breaches of the rules outside the spirit of a fair and open election’. The count proceeded anyway, having excluded all preferences for RON, and Oliver Robinson, currently a city councillor for the campus, was declared President-elect after 6 stages of votes. Congratulations to Oliver. Probably.

Would RON have won? The count sheet (showing the figures once RON had been excluded) is available, and shows that 181 of the 1,443 valid first preference votes were classed as ‘non-transferrable’ (sic) at the first stage of the count. You do not usually get non-transferable papers at stage 1, because if a paper is just cast blank, it counts as spoilt, so subtext’s elections guru suspects that these were the people who cast their first preference for RON, and indicated no second preference. But any votes that showed a first preference for RON and a second preference for another candidate (which is not uncommon) would, presumably, have just been added to that candidate’s pile.

The final result, at stage 6, showed that Oliver Robinson beat Joe Fundrey by 503 votes to 472, with 468 non-transferable papers – these being the 181 from stage 1 plus a further 287 papers which didn’t mention Robinson or Fundrey at all. If a significant number of these 287 papers did mention RON somewhere, then it’s quite possible that the final result would have been different.

Will the Returning Officer release the ‘what if…’ figures? And how can you disqualify a non-candidate, designed to give students a choice, because of the actions of its supporters? We await further details with interest.

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