The John Muir Trust has had to correct the results of its Trustee election for 2021 having uncovered a manifest error in the analysis and reporting of the results of its 2021 election conducted by Civica Election Services (CES).
What mistake has CES confirmed was made?
Civica Election Services (CES) has confirmed that it made an error when inputting the names of candidates in the Trust’s membership election into the vote counting software that it uses. The error was not detected when the report of voting was being prepared prior to being sent to the Trust.
Has CES apologised and accepted responsibility for the error that was made?
CES was quick and transparent in its investigation of the issue and in turn offering a sincere apology for the error. CES has investigated why the procedures that it used to run the Trust’s membership election, check and verify its results have not prevented the error on this occasion. It concluded there were manual errors when inputting the data and subsequently when verifying the results.
What impact does that have on those involved in the election?
As a result of CES providing information that was incorrect, the Trust’s last membership election was reported incorrectly and subsequently the order and selection of those who joined the Board of Trustees was in turn incorrect. This means that at the Trust’s AGM in 2021 two Members who should have been elected Trustees were not, while two who were elected should not have been. At the same time two Members had the length of their term incorrectly reported. One serving a three year term should have been appointed to serve for one year and vice versa.
Which Members have been directly affected by this?
Trust Members Steve Green and Mary-Ann Ochota are elected as Trustees following the correction to the election results. Trust Members Patrick Cadell and Richard Eastmond are no longer Trustees. Trust Member Sheila Wren now serves a one year term as a Trustee as opposed to the previously notified three year term. Trust Member Clare Jefferis now serves a three year term as a Trustee as opposed to the previously notified one year term. The terms for these Trustee positions run from the date of the 2021 AGM.
What steps has the Trust taken to correct the election result?
The Trust responded immediately to confirm the facts with CES and has taken swift action to inform the Trust Members involved and correct the result. Those Members involved have been told and received confirmation in writing of the error made and the changes required to correct the election result. Those changes have been put in place with immediate effect.
Is the Trust confident this error is for this election only and doesn’t apply to previous elections?
CES has notified the Trust that in 28 years of administering elections it cannot recall a similar error occurring. CES’s internal investigation concluded there was a manual inputting error. The names of candidates had been manually added into the stv counting software in reverse ballot paper order. All indications are that this is a one-time discrepancy and hasn’t occurred in previous election results. The Trust holds information for the Trustees Elections of 2017 to 2021. In 2017 and 2019 there was the same number of candidates as vacancies so no members ballot was held. In 2018 and 2020 the reporting of the results of the Members ballot does not have the discrepancy that indicated the issue identified and confirmed in the 2021 election.
What are the implications for decisions made by the board of Trustees since the AGM in 2021?
There is no impact on the Trust’s decision making since the AGM in 2021. The Trust’s article 12.7.1 covers validation stating: ‘All acts bona fide done of any Board meeting, or by any committee, or by any person acting as a Trustee shall, notwithstanding it be afterwards discovered that there was some defect in the appointment or continuance in office of any such Trustee or person acting as aforesaid, or that they or any of them were disqualified, be as valid as if every such person had been duly appointed or had duly continued in office and was qualified to be a Trustee, or a committee member.'
When and how did the Trust become aware of this issue?
As part of the review of the Trust’s new Articles of Association the description of how the single transferable vote should work was adjusted. Following this the Trust decided to do an anonymised check of its membership election results on the basis there was a possibility of minor changes due to the algorithm. The resulting analysis did not find any issues with the algorithm but did suggest there had been a process error. This was brought to the Trust’s Returning Officer’s attention on Monday 24 January 2022 at 9pm. The Returning Officer cross checked the results before writing to CES on Tuesday 25 January 2022 to outline concerns. CES replied on Monday 31 January 2022 confirming that an error had occurred and advising that they had re-run the election with the candidates in the correct order and provided the Trust with the correct election results.
Is there any legal action or compensation settlement happening between CES and the Trust as a result of this issue?
The Trust is in compensation discussions with CES in relation to the error and the costs associated with addressing it.
Will the Trust continue to engage CES as a partner organisation for future membership elections?
In light of these events the Trust will review how it conducts its membership elections.
What other steps is the Trust taking with regard to this issue?
The Trust has notified OSCR of this governance issue and informed its Trustees. The Trust will send changes relating to its registered directors to Companies House. It will soon write to all its members to confirm what has happened outlining the impact on the Trust and the steps taken to correct the election results.
Who should I contact if I have any questions about this?
Members with questions about this matter should write in the first instance to the Trust’s Returning Officer.
Any other enquiries should be sent to the Trust’s head of development and communications: Kevin Lelland.