CUSU reverses NUS election result, electing Peter McLaughlin

The Elections Committee apologised “unreservedly” for their original error


CUSU has overturned the result of the recent NUS election following an appeal by Downing student Peter McLaughlin. McLaughlin has now been elected as NUS (National Union of Students) delegate after Howard Chae was initially elected to the open delegate place.

McLaughlin originally received the highest number of first-preference votes to be NUS National Conference delegate, gaining 124 in total, but was not elected due to the Single Transferable Voting (STV) system used by Cambridge University Students' Union. Magdalene History MPhil student Howard Chae received 102 first-preference votes.

This outcome proved controversial, with McLaughlin – who had run on the campaign “Let’s Change the NUS” – labelling the decision “undemocratic”. In a Facebook post, McLaughlin suggested that ideological bias could have played a role in the decision making, stating: "It is *totally* unacceptable that they might have, even partially, known the outcome of their decision before making it: even if preventing my victory did not enter into their deliberation, the fact that it *could have* is itself just as bad."

CUSU’s election committee originally defended the result, publishing a clarification. However, in today’s unprecedented decision, the committee admitted on their website that “the original decision represented an inaccurate application of the ERS97 rules”, meaning that it did not properly follow the Electoral Reform Society’s (ERS) rules for STV.

The committee’s decision was made in accordance with NUS rules, which mandate a gender-balanced delegation. It is only when the gender-balance mandate is considered that a decision needs to be made, and the Elections Committee opted for a run-off between McLaughlin and Chae rather than honouring the result based on first-preference votes.

The Elections Committee issued an apology “to Peter McLaughlin, Howard Chae and to the student voters for the original uncertainty around these results and the lack of clear communication about this process.”

They stated: “The Elections Committee recognises that this incident has highlighted significant issues in relation to how the decisions made by the Elections Committee are communicated to the wider student body in a clear and transparent manner. We will be meeting later this term to discuss how to tackle these issues going forward and address the lessons learned from this process. We will continue to ensure that our minutes are publicly available on the CUSU website, as has always been the case.

“The Elections Committee are glad that this appeal has resulted in the correct decision being implemented and are confident that our appeals procedure has produced a satisfactory outcome.”

As a result of this move, Peter McLaughlin, Stella Swain, Sally Patterson, and Re-Open Nominations (RON) have been elected.

Commenting on the result, McLaughlin wrote on Facebook: "You may have seen the news that Elections Committee have responded to my appeal. They have concluded that the way they decided to count the results of the election was incorrect, and having counted with a different method, have declared me duly elected.

"Many people have been in contact with me to congratulate me, so I would like to make it clear: This is not a victory. While I am glad that Elections Committee have recognised the mistakes in their initial decision, the fundamental procedural flaw – i.e., the fact that the Committee even had the discretionary power to make this decision in the first place – remains.

"The undemocratic nature of a committee deciding an election behind closed doors does not change if that committee changes its mind: the problem is still that power is vested in the committee. This election is no more democratic and legitimate now than it was before.

"I believe that my next port of call is the University Proctors; I hope to forward them an updated version of my appeal. I also hope to fight to change the CUSU Standing Orders, where I believe that most of the fundamental ambiguities that gave this power to Elections Committee can be found.

"I am well past the point of being disappointed at the results of the election, and have been for a while. My issue with this election is not the self-interested one that I lost, that can be remedied by the committee declaring that I have now won; it was with the democratic legitimacy of the entire process. I will continue the way I have been going."

The Tab Cambridge has contacted CUSU for comment.