Let’s talk about proxy-voting

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Adam Mossman got in touch with SCAN Comment to express his confusion with how proxy-voting was handled at last week’s Annual General Meeting. We asked LUSU to offer their thoughts and reasoning…

If you’ve been paying enough attention, you’ll have heard about that AGM the other week. It could be the whole thing passed you by, what with Roses and exams and all that. If so, here’s what you need to know: LUSU held a General Meeting which less than the required 200 people attended, meaning those in attendance were not able to vote on an ambitious proposed constitutional change. After the near-meeting, some interesting clauses in LUSU’s constitution and bye-laws were pointed out to me and I did some digging.

Keeping these to a semi-logical order: “LUSU Constitution 6.3.8. The quorum at an Ordinary General Meeting shall be two hundred full members. 6.3.8.a. No business shall be transacted unless such a quorum is present, and unless the Chair announces that the quorum is filled.” – This explains why no votes were held at the meeting. Estimated figures were around a hundred and seventy. Not enough. Apparently there were in excess of 400 proxy votes but they couldn’t count towards quorum because:  “6.3.8.c. The quoracy shall be established by counting the number of full members’ present using the proof of membership as specified in Schedule C: Bye Law 3 (General Meetings) and recounting as appropriate to allow for members leaving.”

So far, so clear. 170 < 200. Those proxy votes don’t contribute. However, the Schedule C: Bye Law 3 (General Meetings) has an interesting thing to say on proxy votes, namely that they will count towards quorum: “4.3.1. Members who are unable to attend a general meeting are allowed to instruct the chair of their vote prior to the meeting and ask the chair to act as their proxy. 4.3.2. Proxy votes will count towards quorum.” – So there’s obviously a contradiction here. I’m not sure what takes precedent between the Constitution and its referenced Bye-Laws but clearly it was decided that it was the Constitution. Proxy votes can’t be counted as “people in the room”. Perfectly clear.

But then there’s another problem. The quoracy they needed for their Big Vote was 400, not 200. It was a constitutional change: “LUSU Constitution 6.7. A motion to amend the LUSU Constitution shall require a qualified majority voting in favour from a quoracy of 400.” – OK so they just needed to get 400 in the room, not 200. Simple. Except George Fox LT1 has a capacity of 344. To exceed that capacity wouldn’t be safe, or should I say “appropriate”: “Schedule C: Bye Law 3 (General Meetings) 2.1. All General Meetings shall be held in an appropriate venue.” – If proxy votes don’t count towards quorum, as it has apparently been ruled, then there was no way any change to the Constitution could have properly been passed in that room. 344 < 400.

So the way I see it: the AGM either did get quorum and the VP – Union Development messed up, or it didn’t get quorum and there was no way it could have while adhering to LUSU’s Constitution and Bye-Laws. I won’t claim to be an expert here, though. Just some guy trying to make sense of a student union’s constitutional documents.


LUSU’s view on proxy-voting:

Our interpretation of the Constitution and Bye Laws is that 200 people in the room plus the proxy votes would have been enough to reach quorum. The Constitution and Bye Laws work hierarchically, so what the Constitution says would trump anything that appeared in a Schedule C Bye Law. That’s what’s led to the complexity in this case, as the Constitution does define quorum in General Meetings, but is silent on the matter of proxy votes (which are covered by the Bye Laws).

The Constitution states that quorum of 200 must be established by counting the number of full members in the room. The Bye Law states that proxy votes can count towards quorum. Clearly this is open to interpretation, but we wanted to make sure we were being as fair as possible about this and arrived at an understanding of our rules that actually didn’t work in our favour.

Our interpretation was that we could reach the necessary quorum requirements if we had at least 200 members in the meeting AND enough proxy votes to reach an overall count of 400. 200 members need to be present in order to enact any business, but clause 6.7 doesn’t make any reference to number of members present. So another 30 or so people in the room would, in theory, have been enough for this vote to have taken place.

On the matter of the size of the room, we did anticipate this issue cropping up. Apart from the Great Hall (currently in use for exams) there isn’t a single room on campus big enough to accommodate 400 people. For that reason we had booked other rooms in the George Fox Building as overspill rooms and arranged to stream the meeting live to them. Members in the overspill rooms would have had the opportunity to vote in the meeting and would have counted towards quorum. At the event, this wasn’t needed as Lecture Theatre 1 didn’t hit capacity.

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