Vote-rigging in Ulster

June 26, 1998

In the week of the Northern Ireland's historic assembly poll an electoral court has declared student union elections at Queen's invalid after widespread evidence of multiple voting.

The extent of multiple voting, using high-quality counterfeit student cards, had been impossible to calculate, the court, set up by the union, said. According to anecdotal evidence it may have involved outsiders ineligible to vote at all.

Any undergraduate found guilty could be expelled.

The systematic organised fraud was at "a very professional level" and is thought to have been unprecedented. It calls into question both the conduct of union elections and the university system for monitoring the process.

The court also found that student cards had been incorrectly punched by polling staff, which inadvertently allowed multiple voting, and the returning officer had mistakenly closed nominations a day late.

There was also evidence that some election posters were tampered with and incorrectly displayed. At least one student was apprehended with three fake union cards as well as his own.

The posts being voted for include the auditor, mature students' officer, union secretary, cultural affairs officer, women's rights officer, student community action officer and international students' officer. The court said the irregularities could have materially affected the outcome.

No rerun of the elections is likely because there is no provision in the constitution of the student union for a second poll. So all posts must remain effectively vacant.

The court recommended that the university should provide a student card of a quality that could not be counterfeited and that the student union provide card punches not easily replicated. It said that students who lose their cards more than once should be fined before a replacement card is issued.

The court also said the students' union should set up a review of its electoral practices, including the administration of elections and the recruitment of polling staff.

Sinn Fein vehemently denied claims by a university source that Republicans are aiming to increase their control of universities across Ireland. The university's Republican Society denied it had any formal links to Sinn Fein.

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