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 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 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."
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


John Wilding said...

About rule breaking, it's basically "if you can get away with it, do it".
I do and I don't agree about posters. One or two in prime positions would be good. You might as well just make six and put three around Sanctuary and three around Calvino's.
Gimmicks just make you look like an idiot. I love gimmicks in wrestling (I know you don't) because it's just part of a show, just for fun. If you're running for election to a union, you're running for the responsibility of governing a million pound business. Would you want someone dressed as a clown to do your accounts?
That said, I think it could attract the apathetic voters. Probably get someone to clown around in the bar.
I think the way Wayne won last year, apart from getting friends to threaten other candidates into changing their publicity or be disqualified (which they couldn't do), was by getting shout outs at parties. He also had a presence at all parties.
The most important think to do if you want to win is spend three years spreading yourself into practically every society known to man, make as many friends as possible, too. If you ask students why they voted for such and such, the number one reason is "s/he's my friend". Sad maybe (we are trying to build a successful business here), but true.

Iain said...

I'm disappointed that you didn't mention my innovative 4 a3 posters to make one a1 poster idea.

Anonymous said...

Iain, he mentioned it in his Flickr stream -