Friday, 13 March 2009

HUU Elections 2009 - The delayed President

One of the more controversial aspects of the elections that recently took place at Hull University Union was the disqualification of one of the Presidential candidates - Jamie Scudamore. Due to that decision, made by Returning Officer Kat Docherty, Jamie appealed and that meant an Election Appeals Committee had to be arranged. This delayed the result by a week.

Final round results
As the decision to disqualify Jamie Scudamore was reversed by the Election Appeals Committee, he has been elected President and all of the results from the polling period stand. R.O.N was out of the running first. In the next round Ben Hall and Rory Stobo were out of the running, which meant there was three candidates in the final round:

CandidateVotes
Jamie Scudamore1152
Amy Hopkinson655
Andrew Barrett471
Q&A with Alex Hamilton
Alex Hamilton
After the result of this particular election was announced, I had several questions. A number of rumours were being circulated and I wanted to make sure I had the truth before blogging anything. Yesterday I sent an email to Alex Hamilton (the UST and Deputy Returning Officer), containing the questions that I had and I got the following responses this morning:

Are the minutes of the EAC going to be published on hullstudent?
I'll have to check with Paul what the availability of closed committee minutes is. The reasons to go into closed session were the reports of what has happened previously in EACs, regarding intimidation of the EAC by the behaviour and amount of people present (Amy had arrived with about 15 very vocal supporters); also some of the evidence given would be prejudicial against one of the complainants if the EAC decided to re-run the election so it was deemed unsuitable to be heard publically.

Is it true that there was a 12-0 vote in favour of Jamie Scudamore winning, despite him breaking rules?
The vote was 10-0 as only ten could make the meeting (quoracy is seven). They decided that the infringements during the election that were dealt with to the RO’s satisfaction were not grounds to exclude him and that the only unresolved issue, the one for which the RO excluded the candidate was insubstantial, especially given the circumstances in which it was initiated.

Was the EAC called because he was canvassing (e.g. knocking on doors) in areas where he wasn't supposed to?
It was not. There has been a rumour of a local council byelaw prohibiting this, but no proof has been offered. I have myself researched this and the only thing I could find was a byelaw preventing the employment of children for door knocking/ canvassing without an adult present; which would of course imply that adults can do so.

There have been accusations of rigging (I'm not going to name anyone). Can I get your confirmation that it was completely random selection that decided who was part of the EAC?
I can confirm the students were entirely random, as the Chair of Council (Paddy) and James Brooks can attest to.

The process I used to select the students was http://random.org/integers/ to generate 200 random positive integers, these numbers then corresponded to a cell on an excel spreadsheet of all students, which has them listed 1-17000ish. These names were then checked against the list of candidates, proposers and seconders. I then sent an email to these students explaining the situation (an appeal had been made which required adjudication). I also checked the respondents’ facebooks for any campaign ties, and then found a time that at least 7 could make to hold the meeting. I also did not know any of the EAC.

I must also point out that I refused to release the names of the EAC prior to the meeting, despite threats of a motion of no-confidence against myself (which was subsequently made) from Amy’s campaign team, notably Sam Greenwood.


What are your thoughts on the decision of the EAC to elect Jamie?
I am of course impartial to any proceedings during the election period. I am satisfied though that the EAC carried out their duty satisfactorily and professionally.

Alex finished off the email by stating:
"There have been a great deal of rumours surrounding the President election (as there are almost every year), this year I feel the difference is that two actively political campaigns have not succeeded against what is seen as an outsider to HUU politics, and due to the last minute resignation of the previous RO, a Sabbatical needing to take on the deputy duties, as I am available on campus during the period – as a result the parties involved moved their attentions from campaigning for a victory to undermining the processes involved.

The recently elected Officers have a massive democratic mandate as a result of our highest ever turnout, and as such it is a shame that some groups within our democratic structures are intent on ignoring and undermining this."
First of all I have to thank Alex for taking the time to answer the questions. It would have been easy to ignore them and keep speculation circulating around the union.

Despite the detail of these responses, I still have some concerns. Kat Docherty was only present on the results night and there is no evidence to suggest she was present at the EAC to justify her decision. His refusal to release the names of the EAC is also worrying.

There is only his word which states the membership wasn't rigged in any way. This doesn't help to make the union transparent and also means there is nothing to prove that what he says about committee selection is correct. In the past, I have seen EAC membership announced and it's even more important given that there's a no-confidence motion against him.

In point 3, he stated that he could not find evidence to prove that the accusation about canvassing was against the rules. After searching election laws, Standing Order 2003 (governing elections) and the HUU Bye-laws I could not find anything either. If there is proof - then please leave a comment on this blog post.

If there's no proof of that though, what was the reason for the initial disqualification? This needs to be stated to make sure the union remains transparent.

Alex also mentioned the subject of the previous RO (Paul Tatton), resigning from that position. Even though Alex felt an impartial replacement needed to be found, this does not mean that he should necessarily be the automatic choice as a deputy. As I have stated in a previous blog post, theoretically he could influence the result and (as he rightly states), executive officers are meant to be impartial.

Public opinion
I have asked other people what they feel about the decision to elect a candidate who was initially disqualified. One person said:
"I think its right
There is no way you can say that the number of votes cast has been dramatically affected by what happened.
His vote count was far too high for that."
I replied by stating that "while it's true that there is no proof that the two things are linked, is it right that a person who was initially disqualified should be elected?". The person said:
"i still feel it was in the best interests of the students and the union itself"
It is an interesting point. Not being able to found out who can rightly call themselves President as soon as possible can have a huge impact. It affects training schedules, teamwork and could potentially mean voters lose faith in the union's ability to manage itself properly.

However, it is important that those who are elected have the right to hold that position and all necessary steps need to be taken to ensure that.

Summary and Conclusion
I would say that the biggest problem is communication. As I have mentioned, there is evidence of a lack of transparency and people need this to know that their votes have meaning. There needs to be appropriate publicity for all elections and all info that is published needs to be 100% accurate.

The presidential election could have been handled better, but I applaud Alex for giving answers to important questions in an effort to reduce the number of concerns people have. If you have any issues with the election, it is always important to contact the RO or the deputy.

It will be interesting to hear what happens with the no-confidence motion. There seems to be a large amount of support for it, but will people give up as the election process is now completed?

So, what do you think?

Technorati tags: Election, HUU, Politics, Student Unions, President

Friday, 6 March 2009

HUU Elections 2009 - the results (with a twist)

The last day of voting and the announcement of the results were both very eventful. Naturally, there was a lot of tension and when each result was announced, there was a huge amount of emotion shown. Amongst the chanting and the tears though, we now have most of the team that will be in charge of the union for the 09/10 academic year.

A note about the presidential election
The following quote is from a statement made by Kat Docherty, the returning officer for this year (the full statement can be found here):
"During the course of the elections, a number of complaints were received by the Returning Officer regarding a particular candidate for the position of President. Some of these complaints were upheld and the decision made to exclude the candidate from the elections."
The disqualified candidate (several reliable sources told me it was Jamie Scudamore), has appealed the decision and there will be an Election Appeals Committee meeting that decides who becomes President next year. As a result of this I will be posting the result of the Presidential election in an extra (fourth) entry about the elections.

The results
VP Welfare
CandidateVotes
Alice Marshall910
R.O.N.318

VP Community (final round results)
CandidateVotes
Ben Wilcox681
Katie Beth-Hardy350
Andrew Corless331

VP Education (final round results)
CandidateVotes
Chris Marks530
Mark Tyson398

VP Sports (final round results)
CandidateVotes
James 'Wayne' Kerr930
Nathan Webster921

Chair Scarborough
CandidateVotes
Darius Navickas249
James Nicholson221

Chair ISA
CandidateVotes
Line Kristensen543
Joe Kitanosono156
R.O.N.69

Chair Media Committee
CandidateVotes
William Langdale518
R.O.N.207

Chair Campaigns & Democracy
CandidateVotes
Basit Mohammed530
Kaveh Azarhoosh409

Other winners
There were several other positions up for grabs during the elections. One very intersting election was for the position of Chair RAG. In the final round, Ellen Hinsley won by just two votes. It's also interesting to note that after the first round she was only leading by three.

Some of the other elections only had one human candidate and the Re-open nominations option, so it was almost certain who would win that. For example, that happened in the case of Disabled Students Chair (won by Stephen Lee), the Male Chair of LGBT (won by Daniel Horner) and the Chair of the Mature Students Committee (won by Luke Howard-Pask).

Comments on the results
I find the result for the VP Education election very interesting. Chris Marks has managed to repeat what Richard Jackson did in last year's elections by winning despite having no experience of the area he's going to be in charge of. Hopefully, the students thought his policies were good enough. I also have to mention that Mark Tyson wasn't helped by his campaign team being absent most of the time. I have mentioned in a previous post that this was disgraceful. If you don't have a noticeable physical presence at election time, you're going to be disadvantaged.

The VP Sport election was incredibly tight (nine vote difference). I think that has to be one of the closest results for a full-time officer position in a number of years.


The picture above shows Nathan Webster (runner-up in the VP Sport election) doing some karaoke with some of the winners (I have to point out that the choice of song was incredibly clich├ęd), which shows in most cases, elections were cleanly fought and people were friends afterwards - which is nice to see. It's just things like the presidential election which casts a shadow over everything.

Voter turnout/apathy
This was something that really impressed me. The turnout was 3087 and that is a 58% increase on the previous. Congratulations have to go to the union for improving it by that much. The biggest change to the voting setup was using the university portal as a login method, so I assume the decision to use that helped improve the turnout.

Another important figue is what the turnout is as a percentage of the total student population. According to the university website, the number of student scurrently stands at 19,818. Assuming that there were no people who opted out of union membership, that means 15.58% of students voted.

While that is still an impressive figure both compared to previous years and compared to other unions, it still means that the majority of students didn't vote. It means that next year's UEC still have work to do. However, it is always hard to get rid of student apathy. I can't see anything like 90% turnouts anytime soon.

Summary and Conclusion
This election has been 'mixed', to say the least. While most elections have been fought cleanly, things like the presidential election have caused considerable controversy and tarnished the outcome. The turnout was great. Also, many candidates performed well, despite not having that many posters or a physical presence.

Another thing to note is R.O.N. Although in some cases that option was removed in the first round, a surprising number of people voted for it. That has both positives and negatives. It means that more people are willing to engage with the political process, but it also means that they are prepared to delay things. Having said that, if it means the best person gets chosen for the job - it's a good thing.

So, what do you think?

Technorati tags: HUU, Student Unions, Election, Politics

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

HUU Elections 2009 - Polling days

Before I get onto the subject of this entry, I should point out that the current UST (Alex Hamilton) sent a message to me and said that as a result of my discovery about the confusing Returning Officer notices, the incorrect notice has been removed from Hullstudent.com. He has also informed me that there are plans to work on improving the mentions of the Election Appeals Committee in the relevant standing orders.

Anyway, at the time of typing, it's the second polling day of the elections at Hull University Union.

Physical presence

Oddly, the campaign teams were allowed to have a presence before the polling started. This is a strange decision by the union because anyone who talked to the campaign teams couldn't go and vote afterwards.

It was good to see that at least some of the teams were out there from early on though - it definitely shows committment. Unfortunately, I spoke to one candidate who said his campaign team had "slept in", which is incredibly lazy, unhelpful and shows a huge lack of support. Sure some people might have lectures during the day and, to be fair, they should be allowed to attend those. However, not everyone has lectures from 9-6, so they can be around some of the time. I suspect the candidate I spoke to will have had words with his team!

On the first polling day, there was a solid presence outside the Brynmor Jones Library. It is a massive improvement on last year, when large proportions of the teams only turned up on the final day. However, as it was the last opportunity for people to vote, you can understand why they all appeared!


One thing I saw that was disappointing was campaign team members hanging around where people were voting. There was two or three from one team and someone else who was quite close to voters trying to give them stickers. This is very much against the rules (Standing Order 2003, point 28(e)) and all candidates should have explained this to their teams (the standing order is issued at the procedural meeting to all candidates - points 15 and 25(a) of S.O. 2003). I know that at least one of the people in that area was (or still is) a Union Councillor, so that's even more disgraceful. Naturally, I reported this to the UST and as far as I know, he's going to put a notice up about that, which is better than nothing.

Gimmicks

Gimmicks are almost an ever-present part of student union elections across the country. They are meant to introduce a bit of fun because the theory is that many students think politics is boring. If politics is made interesting, then people maybe more likely to listen to what you have to say and vote for you. As you can see from the two pictures above, the gimmickry comes in a variety of forms and for some voters it does work. However, it's not for everyone.

I am not a fan of gimmicks in this context at all. Although they may get the occasional laugh, students want a student union that 'just works', provides enough services and represents them - basically good value for money. I'm not sure you can get that across by using an inflatable castle, shiny wigs or things like juggling. If anything, the latter could be a metaphor for not being able to stabilise finances - especially if you drop the juggling balls!

Tom Bramall, the Welfare Officer in 2008 for the University of Sheffield Students' Union, summed it up best by saying:
"So when your at the ballot box don't think who has the catchiest slogan or the most gimmicks, think - Who's going to represent my needs, my wants and help make my University life the best ever."
Publicity
In the HUU elections, you can use many forms of publicity, such as radio interviews, flyers, posters and stickers. They can have varying forms of success - especially the flyers and stickers. This is because your average student often feels hassled by the various campaign teams. The best strategy would be to say something short and concise, then if they're not interested, simply leave them alone. Forcing people to wear stickers doesn't exactly attract their vote. It might even stop them from voting altogether.

As for posters, there are a number of pitfalls here. The main one is too much text. When people walk by your poster, they are not going to want to read several paragraphs - especially if they are rushing to e.g. a lecture or a meeting. The best thing is short sentences or bullet points.

The next thing is coverage. There are two ways of doing this. One is to simply put lots of posters up everywhere. However, this only works if you have a large campaign team because when the posters go up, everyone is trying to get in front of you to grab a prime location. If you have a small team, you'd have to be very quick and determine which are the best spots first. These tend to be near the stairs or anything at eye level. Nobody is likely to kneel down to read a lot of text on a crowded piece of A4 (or A3).

The other way works if you have a small team. If there is already a large collection of posters in one area that are one colour and you have a poster that is substantially different, put in the middle of the large collection. As it is different, people will notice it. Once again, the stairs and anything at eye level is a good place to go. This method can also work if you have limited camapign funds.

When I was campaigning in 2006, I had a very small team (at times it was myself, but I did have two others who alternated). This made it difficult when putting up posters, but while everyone was concetrating on one area of the building, I rushed up to other areas and took full advantage of the empty space.



In the picture above, you will see that those posters aren't at eye-level. However, they can be seen when you're near the top of a nearby staircase. Providing the text is big enough, you might get away with that.

This year, I've noticed that some candidates haven't done any posters. This surprises me, but it might appeal to those voters who don't like how excessive postering makes the union look a mess (believe it or not there are restrictions on where you can put them - point 28 of S.O. 2003). However, this only works if the voters know who you are via other means. You also have to think that not everyone will have a detailed look at the nomination forms.

Summary and Conclusion
I think the physical presence of campaign teams this year has been very good. Poster coverage has been ok too, although some will suffer because they haven't put any up - either in the major locations or nowhere at all. I am also disappointed by the occasional bit of rule-breaking, but this often happens. Candidates really should remind their teams about the restrictions.

I'm not entirely sure about voter interest so far - I haven't seen crowds of potential voters surrounding people in brightly coloured t-shirts. Having said that, the best way to tell is when the voting figures are released. I'd also like to see what happens on the final polling day and whether activity picks up then.

So, what do you think?

Technorati tags: HUU, Student Unions, Election, Politics

Monday, 2 March 2009

HUU Elections 2009 – Candidates & Controversy

I haven’t posted since November last year. To be honest, I had lost the motivation to blog and I had other things that used up my time. Each of my posts take a while to research. Anyway, certain things have happened recently which have given me some motivation again.

The importance and history of elections
At Hull University Union, the elections are some of the most important things to happen in the academic year. Unfortunately, apathy is rampant in student unions. It is the job of the executive to effectively communicate the importance and to use more than one medium, which will increase the chances of the relevant information being seen. In the past at HUU, the percentage of students voting has been below 20% (most of the time it’s below 15%). It would be good if the percentage goes up each year. If you vote then there’s a greater chance of the best candidates getting elected.

Candidates
Once again, all of the major positions have candidates. However, it concerns me that some have only one candidate (e.g. VP Welfare). While this doesn’t necessarily mean the one candidate will be bad, having some competition is always better. In the VP Education category, only one person has any student rep experience (student reps being one of the things VP Ed is responsible for). This could be problematic as experience of the area can provide a better understanding of the role. However, previous elections have shown that a non-rep can get successfully elected (see the ‘08 VP AR results and the Richard Jackson victory).

I don’t like criticising an individual candidate, but I think one of the people attempting to become President is severely harming his chances by what he has written on his nomination form. The reasons for standing should be detailed and contain policy ideas, as well as information about relevant experience. However, he is not breaking rules set out the the standing order governing elections. It is up to the voting members to decide if this is acceptable.

Major discrepancy
As I have already mentioned, communication of relevant information is important. Unfortunately, I have noticed some problems in this area and it worries me greatly.

One of the most important people in any election is the Returning Officer. Point 4 of Standing Order 2003 states:

“The Returning Officer (RO) is to be appointed by the Union Executive Committee when elections are called and can be either a permanent member of Union Staff or an assigned National Union of Students RO. Notification of the appointment is to be posted by the General Manager’s Secretary on the elections board within forty eight hours.”

In the Election Handbook, it states the Returning Officer for this year is Kathryn Docherty, who is a member of staff at the NUS. However, if you go here, you will find that Paul Tatton (the Union General Manger) was chosen as the RO.

You will see in the above quote that the RO is announced on the election board. Fair enough – that name will have to be considered accurate. However, this confusion on hullstudent.com is likely to confuse many students as few will read right through the standing order to find out about the election board. The website would be a more obvious port of call.

The bigger notice that mentions Paul Tatton will probably be the one that students see first. This is because the point about Kathryn Docherty is hidden in the middle of one download and is not shown anywhere else. If it turns out that Paul Tatton is not the RO, then this demonstrates both a lack of transparency and clarity. In both cases, there are no details about how to contact those people. If people have a complaint or other issue, they might not know who to talk to.

Other issues
The previous point is probably the biggest problem in my opinion, but there other things that need to be mentioned that are related to clarity and transparency.

Point 7 of S.O. 2003 states what will happen if there is a serious or wilful breach of election procedures:

“If the RO has any doubts as to the eligibility of a candidate or considers that there has been a serious or wilful breach of election procedures then disqualification is mandatory.”

Later on in the document, point 25(a) mentions rules for campaign team members:

“Candidates are responsible for the behaviour of their team members during the election campaign. It is their responsibility to ensure that all of their campaign team are briefed on the rules and regulations surrounding elections. Candidates are all provided with Standing Orders governing elections and it is imperative that they relay this information to their teams and explain that many of the rules also apply to team members. If a complaint is made it will be referred to the RO who will then decide on the appropriate action to take, see 7.”

The above mentions that point 7 talks about appropriate action for the RO to take. However, that only talks about disqualification. Nowhere does point 7 mention the EAC (Election Appeals Committee) or what happens in the case of a minor issue.

This could be interpreted in two ways:

  1. It is simply badly worded and should say something like: “for an example of appropriate action, see point 7".
  2. The only appropriate action for any complaint is disqualification, but what if it’s only a minor issue? Where does the EAC fit into this?

This point needs to be much clearer.

During the elections, the Returning Officer can choose any number of Assistant Returning Officers (point 6 of S.O. 2003). There are also eligibility restrictions (they must be a full member of the union who is not a proposer or seconder). Looking at this point, it is perfectly possible for a part-time UEC member to be chosen or supporter who is neither a proposer or seconder.

This introduces an element of bias. There’s also nothing to suggest the names of AROs will be released. These points show a lack of detail and transparency.

Summary and Conclusion
The issues I have mentioned above have varying levels of importance, but I think it’s clear that a number of them relate to the role of the returning officer, as well as communicating in a clear and transparent fashion. The major problem is finding out exactly who the RO is and how to contact them. Other points can hopefully be addressed in the next iteration of S.O. 2003.

My next post will relate to the polling days and the post after that will be a general post-mortem of the whole election process.

So, what do you think? I welcome any comments from students, UEC members and anyone else who is interested.

Technorati tags: HUU, Student Unions, Elections, Politics, Governance