By CARL V. LEWIS
News Editor, THE OXFORD STUDENT
Some non-UK students had the chance to vote fraudulently in last week’s election because of lax safeguards and mistaken electoral rolls—and at least 13 foreign students claim to have actually voted illegally, an Oxford Student investigation has revealed.
Eight of the students interviewed declined to speak on the record or reveal their college affiliation publicly, citing concerns about revealing publicly that they broke the law or – more frequently – not wishing to speak negatively about College administrators who failed to compare for accuracy the data provided to them by local electoral officials.
Max Gallien, a German student at Queen’s College – who as an EU citizen was eligible to vote in the local council election but not in the general election – said he cast a ballot in the Oxford East parliamentary contest after election workers confirmed to him he could vote in both races.
Gallien said election workers handed him the national ballot even after he told them he was a German citizen and not allowed to vote: “It said on their list that I was allowed to vote for parliament, too,” he said. “So I did.”
Gallien said he assumed he was wrong about the rules. Later that day, he confirmed from a search online that he was indeed ineligible to vote for parliamentary races.
At least two EU students at Balliol and one American student at Queen’s also claimed to have voted illegally, providing their names and college affiliations to The Oxford Student on the condition that the information be used to verify the story, but not for publication. Administrators at both colleges confirmed the three students were inaccurately reported as British citizens in data provided to them by local electoral officials, but denied blame on their end.
A first-year American student at Queen’s – who should have been entirely ineligible to vote in any race as neither an EU nor a Commonwealth citizen – said he voted at the St Clement’s polling station after receiving both polling cards in the mail.
“When I handed them the polling cards I'd gotten, they handed me both ballots, and I didn’t really say anything,” the student said.
Both students at Queen’s had been mistakenly entered as British citizens on the electoral register.
An administrator at Queen’s blamed local authorities for the error. She said the College just exported data they already had on students.
“We don’t change anything – there is no opportunity for it to be corrupted,” she said. "It's not our job to clean up data given to us by officials."
To test the difficulty of verifying such electoral data, a reporter from this paper entered the personal data provided by the two Queens students into two separate Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, one with the correct data and the other with the incorrect data. The paper then added in matching data for 800 different dummy records, similar to the records that would have been on file with the College internally.
A simple Excel 'Compare Sheets' function then identified the two inaccuracies out of all 802 entries within a few seconds' time.
The same Queens administrator who earlier acknowledged the inaccuracy was informed of the results of The Oxford Student's test, but refused to speak any further on the issue, saying she had already made clear that the College isn't responsible for errors made by local election officials.
A CLOSE RACE, BUT NO EASY WAY TO TELL HOW MANY INCORRECT POLLING CARDS WERE SENT
It is unclear how many foreign citizens might have been mistakenly allowed to vote in the general election, but the close margins of some contests mean any error could be significant.
Oxford West incumbent Evan Harris lost his re-election bid by just 176 votes. Harris’s campaign did not return questions about whether he would challenge the vote; his challenger, Nicola Blackwood, also did not respond to requests for comment by the time this paper went to print.
At least four undergraduate EU citizens at Harris Manchester College were mistakenly sent polling cards for both the local election and the general election, but were given the correct ballot at the polling station.
A spokesman for the national election commission confirmed that EU citizens eligible to vote only in local elections should have received polling cards – which tell voters what elections they are registered for, and where to go to vote – for those contests only. Local authorities were responsible for organizing voter registration and mailing polling cards, he said.
A worker at the Oxford election commission confirmed that EU citizens should not have been sent polling cards for the general election. If they were sent those cards, she said, there “wouldn’t be anything stopping them” from voting for a parliamentary candidate – “but they shouldn’t have done so.”
The confusion and apparent lack of safeguards raise worries about the integrity of last week’s elections in Oxford and elsewhere.
Multiple students told reporters of voting without being asked for identification, while national media reported “chaotic” scenes at polling stations around the country last week along with dozens of allegations of postal vote fraud.
OxStu reporters Winston Featherly-Bean and Matt Thompson-Ryder also contributed to this report. Additionally, the identities of all college officials and named sources were verified independently by the paper's legal counsel before publication of this story.