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‘On the Campaign Trail’ – Have Voting Ambassadors Worked?

As one walks from the Impact office to the Hallward Library, trying to avoid being showered by leaflets at the foot of the stairs in the Portland Building and sidling past the throng of sweet-bearing candidates lining the pathway to the library’s doors, it is difficult to overlook the fact that we are at the heart of the campaigning season for the SU elections. On entering the library – the site of one the SU’s new prized Voting Ambassador stations – and the intended nucleus of information on the forthcoming elections, one could however be forgiven for forgetting that Voting Day is just three days away.

In a recent article, Impact expressed concerns as to the potential for ‘this influential role to be abused’, by perhaps an exertion of undue and unregulated influence on the electorate. It appears that this anxiety was unfounded, seeing as far from exerting an undue influence, Voting Ambassadors seem to be exerting little influence at all. On walking past them, this reporter failed to be approached – never mind harrassed – by any of those on today’s shift. Maybe this was just down to the bad luck or unfortunate timing, or maybe Ambassadors aren’t jumping as wholeheartedly into their new roles as the SU would like.

On questioning, one Ambassador in the library referred to their presence there as “probably not necessary”. Speaking to more who have taken on the post, the overall feeling among Ambassadors was not so much that voter apathy rendered their job futile, but that with the withdrawal of paper ballots and introduction of entirely online voting, the process was “pretty self-explanatory” and “most people seem to have figured it out for themselves”.

A brief inspection of the Ambassadors’ tick chart for recording interactions with passers-by reveals a very mixed bag of results. The Ambassadors themselves conceded that most of those whom they had spoken with were merely interested in utilising the laptop provided to vote rather than seeking information from the Ambassadors themselves – although this is perhaps unsurprising given the passivity of some of the Ambassadors in carrying out their role. Those who are selected (and paid for) the role however, ought not to be subject to too much derision – how many of us can honestly say that we would have the energy or interest to enthusiastically approach passers-by with leaflets and a smiling face for three hours?

Instead, this exercise would suggest that this attempt by the SU to increase turnout through voter mobilisation has not proven particularly successful – although as George Wright noted in his interview with Impact on the subject, “the proof is in the pudding”. Nevertheless, whoever finds themselves as Officer Elect for his position on Friday ought to get their thinking cap on for next year. In this age of austerity, perhaps a computer with bold signage might be as effective as a timid and weary Voting Ambassador.

Further on in our interview, George Wright revealed his desire for Ambassadors to adopt a proactive approach to the role and for it to involve “more than just sitting behind a table”. It seems Wright has succeeded in achieving one of these objectives – most of the Ambassadors who we saw were standing up – and eating sweets.

Nick Feingold

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2 Comments on this post.
  • benwadsworth
    9 March 2011 at 12:32
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  • benmccabe
    10 March 2011 at 07:47
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    @Ben Wadsworth

    Actually, no, they are not the same. The first article was an interview with the Democracy & Communications Officer and an overview of how the system is changing and what they hoped to achieve. The second article (this one) is about seeing whether this new scheme has actually worked, and whether it is a positive change from last year.

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