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

2 comments:

John Wilding said...

I think those points should be cleared up.
I would say that the RO should be appointed by union staff, to ensure that certain minority influences in UEC will not be able to pick someone who is biased to their views.
I think, as well, that point 7 needs to be improved. To disqualify someone for trivial reasons would be pointless. Having the point so vague gives license to the person in power to do as they please. It would be a concern that perhaps candidates could be disqualified because a) a single influential member of UEC picked the RO as a puppet, then b) that RO was used to disqualify a candidate that the influential member of UEC had diametrically opposed views to.

John Wilding said...

My earlier comment:
"To disqualify someone for trivial reasons would be pointless. Having the point so vague gives license to the person in power to do as they please. It would be a concern that perhaps candidates could be disqualified because a) a single influential member of UEC picked the RO as a puppet, then b) that RO was used to disqualify a candidate that the influential member of UEC had diametrically opposed views to".
It remains to be seen what will happen, but a presidential candidate has been disqualified by Kat Docherty. Intriguing to see if I am prescient!