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Revealed: Why Max Ghose resigned as Union President

Revealed: Why Max Ghose resigned as Union President

The complaint said this was one of the most “astonishing acts of electoral malpractice [they] have seen”Louis Ashworth

Max Ghose’s sudden resignation as Cambridge Union President earlier this week was the result of an investigation into vote rigging and “astonishing acts of electoral malpractice”, Varsity can reveal.

Ghose, an Old Etonian and former vice-chair of the Cambridge University Liberal Association, was elected last term in a landslide victory. As the first Cambridge Union president to resign since 2008, Ghose’s tenure came to an end six days after assuming office. 

An official complaint against Ghose was filed earlier last week, just hours before publication of the Easter term election results was delayed (16/06). The complaint, seen by Varsity, includes evidence that Ghose secretly stuffed ballots. The allegations were investigated by a Review Committee, before leading to Ghose’s resignation.

In addition to being the incumbent President, Ghose served as the Returning Officer in the Easter 2023 election – a role responsible for overseeing voting and enforcing electoral rules.

On Wednesday, the day of the election, polls closed at 6pm. One of Ghose’s duties as Returning Officer included using a Google spreadsheet to track members’ votes, using Cambridge Union membership numbers. Screenshots, seen by Varsity, show Max Ghose’s account adding new votes onto the spreadsheet from 6:15pm to 6:35pm, after the voting deadline had passed.

The internal Union complaint alleges Ghose made these changes without consulting all the other Returning Officers. The complaint also alleges that Ghose was the last person with access to the ballot box. This was said to imply that either members had been voting after polls closed “with only Max present” or that the incumbent Union president added votes himself.

The email, seen by Varsity, described Ghose’s actions as one of the most “astonishing acts of electoral malpractice [they] have seen”, and urged the Review Committee to “take as serious action as possible”.

Earlier in the week, Ghose was already under fire for previous charges of electoral malpractice. On Thursday (15/06), Varsity reported on a separate complaint made against Ghose, which claimed he provided his presidential election campaign account from last term to one of the candidates running in this term’s election. The complaint suggested this showed a “blatant” conflict of interest, which is against the Union’s constitutional rules for a Returning Officer.

The presidential race was between Ellie Breeze, a previous committee member of the University’s Conservative (CUCA) society, and Nick Davis, a previous Labour (CULC) society committee member. Ghose previously endorsed Breeze in her failed presidential run in Michaelmas 2022.

The election for positions serving Lent 2024 will be re-run at the beginning of next term. Charlie Palmer, the Vice President, will serve as President for Michaelmas 2023 in Ghose’s place.

The complaint which brought about Ghose’s resignation also alleged that Palmer, then Vice President, added seven votes to the spreadsheet on Thursday (15/06) afternoon. As he is not a Returning Officer, the complaint claimed that he should not have had access to the spreadsheet. A spokesperson for the Union told Varsity that the complaint against Palmer was investigated and dismissed by an independent Review Committee.

The Union spokesperson said the Review Committee concluded as follows: “Mr Palmer has not committed any breach of the Rules or the Code and there are no grounds for suggesting any impropriety on his part. He has behaved entirely properly in the discharge of his duties. Indeed, we commend him as Vice President for declining to vote so as not to compromise his independence.”

The spokesperson added: “As requested by the Review Committee the full judgement on the complaint brought by Mr Hardy against Mr Palmer is publicly available to view on the Union’s noticeboard.”

Palmer told Varsity: “I am pleased that the independent Review Committee, having investigated the matter fully, have found that my actions were entirely proper and appropriate for my role as Vice President.”

Nick Davis, a presidential candidate in this term’s cancelled election, told Varsity: “I trust the judgement of the Review Committee and believe Max Ghose attempted to rig the presidential election in favour of my opponent. We need to make sure this never happens again, and that requires institutional and cultural change at the Union”.

Last term’s election also faced accusations of electoral irregularities, as a Union panel investigated claims of ballot tampering. The appointment process of last term’s Returning Officers was found to be “procedurally irregular”.

Max Ghose was contacted for comment.

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  • June 24, 2023