This was originally posted on Facebook on Wednesday, 4 July 2012: http://www.facebook.com/notes/james-mcash-eusapres/10-election-rules-that-should-be-scrapped/129786460495517
I am currently at a training event for sabbatical officers called Student Unions 2012. There’s a load of different sessions on a wide variety of things but one that I thought might be particularly interesting for students at Edinburgh was on election rules. It outlined 10 rules that many student unions have, and why they should be scrapped. There has been significant debate about this on campus so I thought it would be good to share. These are the opinions of the National Union of Students, not EUSA, but I personally see a lot of merit in all of them.
Problematic rules which should be scrapped:
1) “Sabbatical officers not standing in the election should not have an opinion”
NUS argued that sabbatical officers should indeed be able to express an opinion on elections, and even campaign in them (although obviously not in working hours). This comes down to two things. First, sabbatical officers are political leaders and are deeply involved in the working of their student union. This makes it entirely appropriate that they should have an opinion on the union’s future. Second, students are not stupid, and those who want to make stupid decisions should be able to do so: this is the nature of democracy. If a student wants to vote for whoever a given sabbatical officer is supporting, for no reason other than that, then they should be able to.
2) “Welcome to candidate briefing. Campaigning will commence in 2 weeks”
This rule prevents candidates talking about the election except for in a specific period of time. It is entirely reasonable to limit the use of printed materials etc but it is ridiculous to try to police people’s conversations. If people want to start talking about the election in Freshers Week then that is not a problem, in fact it will probably lead to greater engagement/turnout.
I asked what this would mean for ‘independent candidates’ (i.e. people who decide at the last minute to run). Their response was that we should be ‘levelling up’ not ‘levelling down’ – that we should encourage more people to engage throughout more of the year, not limiting those who are already very engaged. They also questioned the idea of ‘independent candidates’. Their argument there was that candidates in elections are never really independent: they are all part of a group (whether formally or not) and this is fine. Moreover, it is entirely expected and appropriate that elections should privilege those who are particularly organised/dedicated.
3) “Section 3, paragraph 1-17: Facebook”
We don’t have any rules like this but basically they said that we shouldn’t try to police the internet. Treat anything done on Facebook as if it were said out loud in public.
4) “Running as a slate is banned”
This is a controversial one here in Edinburgh. NUS’s position is that banning slates is an infringement on the human right of freedom of association. Again, they believe that this is based on the principle of protecting the electorate from its own stupidity – which is not a helpful principle to start from. Apparently at unions where slates are more common you often see a sabbatical team being made up of people from 3 or more slates in a given year: students are able to vote for whoever they think is best.
5) “3 strikes and you’re out”
I don’t think that we really have this but the argument against it is that it encourages people to break the rules twice, which is obviously daft.
6) “Posters are only allowed on walls a b and c”
Apparently over 70% of complaints in student union elections relate to posters. Their recommendation is that posters are banned outright so that people instead spend their time talking to voters.
7) “Candidates may use their own laptop to encourage students to vote”
We don’t allow this at Edinburgh. The argument is that allowing this encourages candidates to intimidate voters, tamper with ballots etc. They had a neat analogy with elections before online voting was introduced: would we allow candidates to carry a ballot box around with them?
8) “Voting will commence at 8am on Monday and close at 5pm on Friday”
I don’t think that this is a massive problem for us but maybe it is. NUS argue that voting should be limited to daylight hours to ensure better quality of voting and to prevent late night campaigning.
9) “Failure to attend hustings will result in removal”
We don’t do this either. Going to the hustings will only help a candidate’s chances – why punish them for not attending it?
10) “Nomination forms and manifesto deadline at same time”
Manifestos should be created through an informed process. This requires time for candidates to actually go and speak to people before handing their manifestos in.
I’d be interested to hear what people think about all of these. We’re currently investigating our election regulations so any comments on this would be very helpful.