The President of St John’s College JCR, Alasdair Lennon, has been found to have committed electoral malpractice, following a report made by five members of his JCR General Committee to the JCR Returning Officer, Andrew Riddles, on Monday morning.
The committee members – Edd Rarity, Vice-President; Harry Palmer, Secretary; Joe Price, Male Welfare Officer; Christina St Clair, Female Welfare Officer; and Flora Sheldon, Access and Equal Opportunities Officer – stated in their message to the Returning Officer that they “would like to report Alasdair Lennon, JCR President, for possible electoral malpractice”.
The report was instigated by an email sent by Lennon, in his capacity as JCR President, to a member of the St John’s JCR on Friday afternoon, advising the recipient not to run in the coming JCR elections. In the email, Lennon stated: “I’m very concerned by your behaviour and ambition to run for the JCR as Male Welfare Officer […] I recommend you do not run in the election for a pastoral role in the JCR.”
Christina St Clair, one of the complainants, commented: “As JCR welfare officer, I encouraged anyone who felt that the situation was impacting upon their personal wellbeing to pursue the official College channels which are in line with university policy and procedure. I find [Lennon’s] conduct inappropriate and I do not support the misuse of any JCR position to intimidate potential candidates and voters. I strongly maintain my position that Alasdair has committed electoral malpractice, as defined by the constitution. To the best of my understanding and my interpretation of the constitution, this report is being processed constitutionally by the Returning Officer.”
The report alleged that Lennon had contravened the St John’s JCR constitution’s standing order on electoral conduct, which defines malpractice as “intimidation […] of voters to secure or to hinder the election of any candidate”, “advising voters before the close of nominations”, or “advising voters in any Committee election […]by an incumbent member of the General Committee”. The St John’s constitution states that “the Returning Officer and President, or if they are implicated, those members of the General Committee who are not implicated, shall have full power to investigate the allegations”.
Lennon replied to the General Committee members directly on Tuesday evening, thanking them for their “incredible integrity” in raising their concerns with the Returning Officer. In the email, Lennon said “I have spoken with Andrew [Riddles] and a college representative [and] they are both in agreement that an informal and quiet resolution is the best course of action. I will attempt to achieve this in the coming twenty four hours.”
Lennon’s response has worried some members of the St John’s JCR who not only fear that “a quiet resolution” demonstrates special treatment for the President in light of these allegations, but are concerned by his involvement in deciding “the best course of action”. One recipient told the OxStu: “I found Alasdair’s email communication with those who had submitted the report to be inappropriate and intimidating. I resented his request that we do not discuss it with anyone. In my opinion, it was another instance of an abuse of his position as JCR president.”
When asked for comment, Riddles said: “Although such allegations are extremely rare, this incident shows that any allegation of malpractice at St John’s should and will be taken extremely seriously. St John’s JCR members can be confident that the integrity and fairness of their electoral system remains intact.”
Joe Price, one of the complainants, stated: “I and other committee members had concerns that the JCR President’s actions may have amounted to electoral malpractice. In accordance with the JCR constitution we reported this to the returning officer. This has now been taken up by the returning officer and followed up in line with the constitution.”
The constitution goes on to say that, in the event of an allegation of electoral malpractice, such allegations may be referred either to an Election Tribunal or to the college Deans by the Returning Officer. A tribunal would “consist of all past and present members of the General Committee still in residence who are neither candidates nor implicated, and are willing to serve”. An election tribunal would have the power to “impose upon members who are found to have committed electoral malpractice such disqualification from office […] for such a time as it sees fit”.
When asked for comment, Lennon said: “In accordance with the Junior Dean’s advice and in combination with selected members of the general committee a resolution was reached to the satisfaction of all parties involved. I was found at fault for advising a candidate not to run for a pastoral care role within the JCR. I did this because this individual had verbally and physically harassed me. I do not believe it is appropriate for an individual who has committed such actions to be providing welfare support to members of the JCR. I recognise that as an incumbent president I should not have acted this way, but I believed it to be in the best interests of the members of the JCR.”
An anonymous member of the JCR commented: “Alasdair’s personal reasons for advising against candidacy do not negate the fact that this was electoral malpractice. He should not have conflated two separate issues which he deemed to be intrinsically linked but for which there were clear, separate procedures.”