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‘On the Campaign Trail’ – The Role of Elections Committee

The Elections Committee is responsible for overseeing the conduct of all elections and referenda that occur at the University. With campaigning now in full flow, Impact met with Will Burks, the Returning Officer of the Committee, to gain a better understanding of what the committee’s role will be over the next few weeks and how this year’s Students’ Union Elections marks several small (but significant) breaks with the past…

Burks decided to get involved with the committee having contested a position in last year’s election and “observing areas which could be improved on”. He felt that it would be useful for the Committee to represent the views of those who had prior experience of contesting an election in order to be able to empathise with issues concerning candidates and the internal operation of their campaigns. Since being elected, Burks and the Committee have worked hard this year to ensure that everything “logistically goes smoothly”. In particular, he is keen to avoid a recurrence of last year’s issues, particularly those concerning the administration of ballot boxes and the cancellation of the Candidate Question Time at QMC.

According to Burks, the most ostensible change that candidates and the wider electorate will notice this year is the standardisation of the format of manifestos. This is the first election at the University in which all manifestos will be “pretty much identical”, with the content of policies, the tagline and the photograph being the only source of distinction. This is designed to prevent the style of manifestos trumping their substance and ensure that non-artistic candidates (or those without access to graphics software/expertise) are no longer disadvantaged. Burks hopes that this will also have the simultaneous benefit of resulting in a “more informed voting population”, with people being less distracted by the aesthetics of manifestos and more drawn to the content.

The Elections Committee has also taken, for the first time, the potentially risky decision to dispense with the traditional paper ballot entirely. This comes after changes were made last year, creating a half-and-half system, where some people voted electronically and others voted using the paper ballot boxes around the various campuses. Under the new system, voting stations will still exist, but they will simply be stations where students can access the electronic voting system. Burks contends that the experience of the recent NUS elections demonstrates that this is unlikely to impact negatively upon the number of votes cast and has the advantage of removing the need for manual counting and the logistical problems associated with this arduous process. In particular, he believes this should help prevent the disarray that has previously characterised Results’ Night, with this year’s proceedings intended to finish no later than midnight. As such, the expectation is that “there will be more people hanging around” for the duration of the event, rather than attendance tailing off towards the end.

Asked about the pressure on this year’s candidates, Burks imagines that it will be “very difficult” given the high quality of this year’s candidates. His biggest hope for the candidates is that the rain follows last year’s example by holding off for the duration of the campaign period.

Nick Feingold & Ben McCabe

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