Oh yes, it’s that time again; the weather is cold and grey, post-exam recovery is finished and the word dissertation is starting to be anxiously thrown around campus by third years. It can only mean one thing – SUSU Elections 2013 are upon us.
But before we buckle down to three weeks of bad puns, terrible rhymes, awkward dances and people dressed up in silly outfits, let’s talk about the changes in the election schedule.
“This year we’ve responded to overwhelming student feedback that there were just too many elections taking place. By holding the key cross campus elections over just two weeks students will now more than ever before be able to better engage in the process.”Sam LingUnion President
This year, SUSU Elections are taking a new format by incorporating four sets of positions – Sabbatical Officers, Student Leaders, Union Councillors and Trustees – all at the same time. This change is part of an attempt by SUSU to counter voter apathy, by reducing the number of annual election periods from seven to four.
Less elections? Now only one set a term? Hooray! Good news for all. Or so it may seem…
Too many positions = overload
This change, however, now means that over 40 positions will be up for grabs with all those elections taking place at once. If we take an average of two candidates per position, that means over 80 people campaigning and canvassing for people’s voters (it is more than likely to surpass 100 candidates!).
It gives me a headache just thinking about it. 40 elections at once? 100+ potential candidates? Such a overload of information is likely to turn voters off than get them engaged. After all, who wants to go through through pages and pages of positions and manifestos?
Harmful to Student Leader positions
It has also been argued that the change will help increase the profile of Student Leader positions by latching on this more high-profile Sabb-electing event. It is true that student leader elections, which happen around month after the sabbatical election, attract less attention, but this is to be expected.
To try and stop this is close to impossible; as voluntary, more specific and part-time roles, SL positions cannot compete in importance with Sabbatical positions.
This move to hold them at the same time will do little to change it; they will remain very much second-class to the main Sabb positions, dwarfed by the coverage and interest in the premium positions.
Loss of good candidates
Not only that, but it creates a restriction for people who want to take part in our Union, as it is now an all-or-nothing game. For example, Dean Jones, current VP Sports Development, attempted to be elected for the position in 2011, but was unsuccessful. He was then able to turn his attention to the Student Leader position of AU Officer, which he held for one year and which gave him a platform to go on to become VP in the 2012 election.
By holding Sabbatical and Student Leader at the same time, this would now be impossible and means many good candidates will miss out completely from being involved in the Union.
This also makes the choice harder for individuals; people who may be the best candidate for a student leader position, but go for a Sabbatical one, could end up with nothing. (while the rules do allow you to go for two positions, this is likely to be counter-productive for any candidate)
Media departments as well as campaign teams will suffer, as many of those that are willing to help a candidates or coverage of the election will be unable to do so if they are going for a Student Leader position.
Freak results may also be an issue. When put at a Sabbatical scale, campaigning for student leaders positions will become increasingly about campaign slogans than the issue, as it won’t just be those involved or interested in that specific area voting, but the whole campus. This could mean that someone will little experience could end up as Edge Editor, RAG Officer or AU Officer purely due to a good campaign.
Furthermore, with so many positions going at once, many people will not bother to read manifestos; the elections will become increasingly about those with the best slogans or campaigns.
Sam Ling, Union President, defended the change, stating it was student supported:
This year we’ve responded to overwhelming student feedback that there were just too many elections taking place. By holding the key cross campus elections over just two weeks, students will now more than ever before be able to better engage in the process.
This decision was debated at a number of elections committees, on Facebook groups, through an online blog, and finally debated and discussed at a full council. This gave a wide range of opportunities to explore possible issues and concerns, which we have been working for the last 6 months to address.
He continued, stating that he felt the new change would help voting figures:
We were also in a situation where student leaders were being elected in on single figures, when just 4 years ago they were receiving 1000s of votes.
This new approach has also allowed us to encourage students to vote for what they care about, and not just push them to vote for everything. We’re also introducing a number of online systems to help you explore the options provided to you.
Ling finished, stating he believes the new format will help the 2013 elections be more successful than ever before:
These elections are looking to be the best that we’ve ever held, and I’m looking forward to seeing an exciting array of passionate candidates, supported by a far more effective elections process.
Less elections is indeed a good thing to stop student disinterest, but considering the cons, I find it difficult to see why the change has happened. Indeed, on the Union Council discussion group, a poll showed that four times as many people felt that the Sabbatical and Student Leader elections should remain separate than those who wanted to put them at the same time.
Nonetheless, SUSU’s experiment with the 2013 election will take place. Voting figures may go up, but at what cost?