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'Very uncomfortable': Students allege harassment by candidates in Sabb Elections

Some students have been solicited while studying, and others felt 'uncomfortable' as candidates attempted to influence their vote

By Josh Pizzuto-Pomaco

updated 16 March

AUSA has received a number of complaints regarding violations of election procedure by candidates during the Sabbatical Officer elections, which end Thursday at 5 pm.

Additionally, a number of students have come forward with allegations that candidates have aggresively solicited them for votes while studying in the library or leaving classes.

The Gaudie spoke to a member of library staff on Thursday morning, who confirmed that the library had received complaints from students about candidates going through the barriers and campaigning on SDR’s upper floors. The staff member confirmed that candidates were not allowed to campaign on floors other than the ground floor, but conceded that this was difficult to enforce.

Walking through the library Thursday morning, multiple flyers for at least eleven candidates could be seen throughout the building’s eight stories.

Out of a desire to be impartial while the election is still ongoing, The Gaudie is not naming any of the candidates against whom accusations have been levied.

A candidate for VP for Education who wished to remain anonymous told The Gaudie, ‘I have personally witnessed a member from another candidate’s campaign team hovering over a voter's shoulder and touching their phone while in the middle of the voting process, and another voter complained to me of being ambushed by several of her campaign staff at once, who invaded the student's personal space, insisting they vote on the spot. All other candidates from all positions have been supportive and many have become friends, so this has put a negative spin on a well-run campaign. Voters and candidates have filed complaints, and as yet, these have not been taken seriously. We were told individuals may personally request to recast votes, and that the candidate in question will be "made aware of the seriousness of their behaviour” (read: a slap on the wrist and no real consequences).’

Nour, a second year student, told The Gaudie that they had a similar experience with the same candidate while leaving a class.

She said: ‘I was just about to leave the class when they stopped me in front of the door asking me if I [had] voted. When I told them I [hadn’t] they continued on to ask me to log in then tapped away on my phone clicking and submitting a vote towards them. I was really annoyed simply because I wanted to take the time to read each person's manifesto and pick for myself but instead she did it all herself and made me feel really uncomfortable and unable to stand up for myself, especially because they were blocking the exit and standing so close.’

Additionally, reports have emerged that this particular candidate's team was asked to leave Hillhead after students complained about aggressive campaigning. A University spokesperson said they were aware of these reports, but commented they couldn't say more until AUSA completed it's investigation.

However, complaints were not limited to this particular candidate. Andrew, a student in third year, commented that they had been approached by two different candidates. He said: ‘It felt rather odd, I was approached twice and both times they were making sure you voted correctly. I think this highlights a problem with voting in student elections, and I hope that some action is taken against the candidates that had their own little mafia rigging the votes.’

Another student told The Gaudie that she had been solicited for votes in the library while studying. She said: ‘Having been approached on multiple occasions by candidates while doing important university work, it made me feel very uncomfortable. On one occasion, I had a leaflet shoved between myself and my laptop before even being spoken [to]. I do not believe this is how our student election should be carried out.’

A candidate for VP for Welfare who was told about potential election violations by students added: They said: 'I’m really worried about what I have heard from students. Some students didn’t even want to talk to us because of the unpleasant experience they had. I think this is not only extremely disrespectful towards the students and the voting process, it also gives [a] bad reputation to AUSA and the elections as the whole.'

AUSA's election rules prohibit 'the use of or threatening to make use of any intimidation or force, violence, or restraint toward anyone in relation to the election, either by a candidate or someone acting on the candidate’s behalf.'

Meanwhile, due to the number of complaints, a student councillor (who asked to remain anonymous) is calling for the election to be run again.

They said: 'The Students' Associations have a very important role in university life, a role that is essential and is even regulated by the Education Act 1994. The sabbatical officers are our most direct representatives. They have a great importance in the life of students and arguablly, they can do more for us than a councillor or even an MSP. As democratically elected representatives who work full-time, they receive a salary, which is partly paid by the students themselves. In any democratic institution, the rules of the game must be well established. The sabbatical officers must behave ethically and respect university democracy. Given the number of complaints, I believe that the election should be held again. It is vital that candidates understand the rules clearly. However, I also think that if there are candidates who have used coercive means they should be unqualified to run again. It is not only the reputation of the candidates that is at stake, but also the reputation of AUSA and the University of Aberdeen!'

Responding to the call to redo elections, an AUSA representative told The Gaudie that any students who felt pressured when casting their vote can email and request to change their ballot up to 5.00 pm today.

This is a developing story. Follow @joshpizpom on Twitter and The Gaudie social media accounts for updates.

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