News Article

Our Statement on the Spring Elections 2021 (09/03/2021)

This our third update on the Spring Elections as of midday on Tuesday the 9th of March, 2021.

Hi All,

 

This is our third statement on the Spring Elections 2021. We're writing this today as we're about to announce the Presidential Election Results on Tuesday the 9th of March at 1pm.

 

You can read our first statement here and our second statement here as long as you are logged into our website as a member, but here is a short recap of where we are at 9am.

 

On Thursday the 4th of March, 15 minutes after we opened the polling in our Spring Elections - our website (brunelstudents.com) was the victim of a DDOS Cyber Attack along with around 40 other UK Students' Unions. Throughout the day, we were attacked multiple times and worked with our website supplier (Membership Services Limited) to reduce the impact of the attacks and give students as much time as possible to vote in the elections.

 

The reason other websites were impacted by this attack was because our website is powered by a computer server that shares technical resources with those Students' Unions.

 

A DDOS attack (Dedicated Denial of Service Attack) is not a "hack" of our website - instead, the perpetrators wanted to reduce the amount of time that our website was functional and accessible to students.

 

No student data was lost during the Thursday or Friday and this has been confirmed by MSL and their suppliers UKFast. No student logins have been compromised.

By Thursday afternoon, we sought advice from our Returning Officers who are the National Union of Students (NUS). A returning officer's role in an election like this is to deem if an election has been free and fair, look at appeals made by candidates and give advice to our staff team.

 

NUS, the Returning Officer, has on occasion overturned decisions our staff and elections committee have made and this is why we have faith in them as our independent returning officer. They have acted and continue to act with integrity and observe independently, whilst having a very clear understanding of students' unions, their members and our election processes.

 

NUS gave the advice that we should extend the period of time in which our polling was open, in order to give every student the opportunity to vote in the election, and that assuming we had at least 5% of the Student Population vote in our elections that we could declare a valid decision.

 

The reason that this would be deemed valid is that is our Constitutional minimum quoracy for a referendum decision is 5% of the student population.

 

By the close of voting on Thursday Night, we sent an email to all members informing them that voting would again open between the hours of 6am and 10am (UK Time) in order to make up for lost time. At this time, we had already had 1,548 students vote in the election.

 

It was also on Thursday Night that MSL confirmed that our website had been moved from a computer server that hosts other websites to a computer server that was only providing resources to brunelstudents.com. At this time, we did not know for certain if we were the intended target of these attacks.

 

On Friday morning, at around 6:30, there was a further attack and we again made a decision to again extend the voting for another four hours to 2pm. We contacted MSL to ask them for advice and they informed us that the balance of probability is that they believed we were the intended target of this extended cyber attack.

 

Later in the day, we moved our website to a secure server which has enhanced security to reduce the impact of DDOS attacks - however, the perpetrators continued to attack our website until 2pm when voting closed.

 

Because of the evidence we have - the implication, especially given that our website was attacked only when polling was open (6am to 8pm on Thursday & 6am to 2pm on Friday) is that the perpetrators wanted to undermine confidence in our elections or cause the Union significant disruption during one of the busiest periods of the year. We will continue to work with MSL and UKFast in order to reduce the risk of this happening again.

 

We will also work with MSL to ensure that our website is as secure as possible for further elections and key periods of the year.

 

At 2pm on Friday, voting closed in our Spring Elections. At 2:15pm, our Elections Committee and Staff met in order to count the elections results. Because this was an electronic vote, we used the MSL Elections Count software to see how many votes each candidate had received and who would be elected using the Single Transferable Vote method.

 

No one apart from key staff members has access to this software at the Union. Before commencing the count, and during the entire voting period, we also monitor the IP Addresses of users who are voting in the election - which were consistent with users voting from devices using the Brunel University network and from across the globe.

 

As our rules state, we did not count elections for roles that still had outstanding complaints relating to candidates. We also do not allow complaints to be processed through our elections if they are received after voting closes - instead these are referred to a Union Disciplinary, the University or dealt with informally.

 

By 4:30pm, we had counted all the posts apart from the President role where we had received a number of complaints which led to us earlier in the day (2:25pm) removing a candidate from that election. We met again as a staff team, after seeking advice from NUS and made the decision to release this statement and planned to release all of the results, apart from the President post, at 6pm in a live Zoom Call accessible to all Brunel Students.

 

If a candidate has been removed from an election (which has happened in the last two Spring Elections), they are given the opportunity to appeal to the returning officer, the National Union of Students within a 72 hour timeframe which meant the candidate in question could appeal anytime before 2:25pm on Monday the 8th of March.

 

At 6pm, we announced these results and by 6:20am we had finished the process. That evening, we sent correspondence to the succesful candidates congratulating them on their success, thanked all campaigners & voters, and finally published the results on our Website, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter social media platforms.

 

After the weekend, our staff team met to discuss possible options for announcing the President Elections assuming we either would, or would not, be dealing with an appeal from a presidential candidate before 2:25pm. According to our rules, we receive all appeals directly through our elections@brunel.ac.uk email address and forward these with any context to the NUS returning officer team.

 

By 2pm, we had received draft appeals from the Presidential Candidate and four other candidates who had lost their election. 

 

The presidential candidate had been removed from their election for a number of evidenced rule infractions, however, the primary reason had been an "Inducement to Vote" where a giveaway competition had been limited to students who could prove they had voted for said candidate, something that could be considered a bribe. The giveaway prize was also a number of Amazon Gift Vouchers that exceeded the overall budgetary limits we set for candidates. We set these limits in order to allow all students to participate in the elections, irrespective of their financial situation.

 

Their appeal document failed to deny or explain the circumstances around this, or any other complaint levelled against this candidate.

 

Four others candidates, who were appealing the decision to count the elections and wanted to re-run the entire elections process again, cited issues around the accessibility of voting over the two day period - however, NUS had already advised our Union that a 5% turn out could be considered a valid turnout, especially considering that we increased our the number of voters and the number of votes cast based on last year's elections. This appeal was ultimately denied because the candidates had not complained about this issue before voting had stopped, and only took action once they had learnt the results.

 

We also want to clarify a number of things that these appeals claim:

 

  • No votes were electronically tampered with during this election. This data was secured by MSL and they have guaranteed that no data was lost or manipulated during this time.

 

  • The number of votes for each role add up to the sum total for the entire election, which is 14,771.
    • This number of votes was completed by 1,769 students, some of whom may have been eligible to vote for multiple roles.

 

  • No Bye-Laws have been changed during this voting period. Bye-Laws are the amendments to our Constitution and can not simply be "removed" and instead need to be amended by our Student Assembly or a General Meeting.
    • Before the elections period, there was a meeting of the Student Assembly that ratified a change in our elections supplementary regulations to bring us in line with the current legal covid restrictions that banned all face-to-face campaigning.

 

  • The statement we made on Friday Night at 5pm about the Presidential Post was not deleted and can still be seen here on our website by logged in members.

 

  • We take allegations of discrimination very seriously and where appropriate will take students and staff through our internal processes to ensure we are continuing to work in the best interests of our members.
    • However, we have not been presented with any evidence of discrimination.

 

On Monday evening, we convened a new meeting of our Elections and Referenda Committee, because NUS had recommended that we count the votes. We counted the election assuming that the previously cited candidate had not been removed from the election. We also counted the election assuming that they had been removed from the election and therefore all of their 2nd preference votes had transferred to other candidates in this election.

 

In both scenarios, the outcome was the same where the successful candidate had been elected with a significant majority in the first round. You will be able to find a vote breakdown on our website shortly.

 

We now plan to announce the results today on Tuesday the 9th of March at 1pm. In the near future, we also plan to release a full breakdown of the statistics we gathered during the elections to ensure full transparency including the following:

 

  1. The number of individual voters.
  2. The number of votes cast by members.
  3. The number of votes cast over time.
  4. The demographics of candidates (Age, Nationality, Mode of Study)
  5. The demographics of individual voters.
  6. The votes for each candidate for each round of voting.

 

Finally, we'd like to again thank the candidates and voters who took part in this election. We understand that elections can be an emotional time for a number of people, including the campaigners who support other candidates. Our elections are one of the most important times in our year because our team who lead our executive, cabinet and trustee board have such a material impact on your student experience over the course of an academic year.

 

We will also be reviewing our internal processes in order to reduce the number of complaints, and improve the overall culture of the Union Elections.