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Allegations of Voter Harassment Denied by KCLSU Elections Team

Multiple students have submitted reports to the KCLSU and Roar regarding voter harassment during the 2021 Spring Elections.

The allegations focus on campaign representatives and officer candidates messaging students privately to ask for their votes and, in some cases, for a confirmation of their vote via text or screenshot. Many of these students claim the representatives and/or candidates in question received their information via society group chats.

In an email sent to Roar during the elections process, KCL Intersectional Feminist Society (IFemSoc) asserted that these instances were in violation of the KCLSU’s “Election Principles”, the second point of which reads: “Elections should be free. Voters must be able to cast their (and no others’) ballot freely, privately and without any interference.”

Multiple students who felt harassed submitted complaints to the SU’s Returning Officer. Each complaint was denied by the Officer, who responded to one student: “I have conducted an investigation and concluded that no further action be taken. Candidates were asked not to send messages to individual’s phone numbers gathered from groups not specifically set up for the purposes of elections, but only part way through the week, as this had not been clear beforehand.

“Receipt of one or two messages asking to vote or to confirm this has been completed does not constitute a breach of the election principles, in fact it would be considered a standard campaign practice. Consideration will be given to issuing clearer guidance in future elections.”

In a statement made via email, the KCLSU Elections office told Roar: “We can confirm that no guidelines were changed during the course of the elections, but a clarification was issued as to the interpretation of such. Requesting confirmation of polling, even in screenshot format, does not specifically breach the elections guidelines. All KCLSU elections processes were followed accurately and the deadline for complaints has now passed. We cannot comment on allegations that are collectively raised outside of this process.”

In an anonymous statement, a King’s student who had received similar messages told Roar: “Someone from my course pressured us to vote for a member without even mentioning their manifesto. The person also messaged me privately on Instagram and asked me to vote for them, again not even mentioning their manifesto. It all felt very high-school ‘VOTE FOR ME!!!’, like a popularity contest. I ended up purposely voting for someone else just for that reason because I found it so undemocratic – doing this is actually illegal in my country!”

In a similar vein, a first-year student at King’s told reporters: “I do not know much about the workings of the Students’ Union. However, I felt extremely intimidated and [like my privacy has been] invaded. My friends and I were sent Personal Messages (PMs) on WhatsApp as well as Instagram asking for confirmation of votes. It’s fine if you PM me to campaign but what motivated me to make a complaint was asking for confirmation of votes. I think I have every right to secrecy of ballot and maintaining a democratic process which is what the point of the whole elections was. […] The returning officer didn’t take the complaint seriously. From what I understand, asking for screenshots directly breaks the rules.”

When asked her view on the matter, IFemSoc co-president and KCLSU President-elect Zahra Syed told Roar: “I just am so incredibly disappointed with the climate at university and the flawed democratic procedure. I wish we could do better. I myself have filed a complaint and understand the role of student societies in these elections is different, but even as a running candidate the hostility I received was so incredibly unpleasant. Action could not be taken in this case as a result of insufficient information, but the KCLSU wanted me to discuss possibilities on how they could improve it for the future, to which I have agreed.”

Similar allegations were raised in the KCLSU’s 2019 Spring Elections. It is currently unclear to what extent the Elections team will alter regulations for subsequent elections to address student complaints.

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