The Union Council has voted to allow the use of electronic voting in elections. The new system will enable voting to take place on and off campus via a computer.
The aim of the motion, put forward by the Elections Sub-Committee and proposed by LUSU General Secretary Janie Coleman, is to widen participation in student elections. Ms. Coleman made a presentation to the Council listing the considerations that the ESC, of which she is chair, had taken into account when proposing the motion. These included greater flexibility and accessibility of elections and less scope for human error, but also highlighted the need to ensure the security of the system.
In her presentation Ms. Coleman observed that the use of the electronic system would allow the ESC to identify groups of students with low participation rates and target them in future elections.
Lancaster has a turnout of approximately 20% in student elections, a figure considerably higher than some universities.
Speaking against the motion, SCAN Editor Dan Hogan asked if the aim was to widen participation, why not look at methods of tackling apathy? He stressed the need to remember the buzz created for many students by casting their votes at the polling station, which would be lost under an electronic system.
The subject of e-voting has been under discussion for several years. A considerable amount of research has been done, both into the ways it would be implemented at Lancaster and the success it has had at other universities, but this is the first time is has been brought before the Council.
Following the presentation, the debate was opened to the floor. Inevitably the issues of security and technological failure concerned many people. Ms. Coleman reassured the Council that the ESC would do everything in its power to ensure that the system was safe from hackers.
Another concern, raised by Tom Mackrory, Vice-President of Cartmel College, was the potential to influence voters. Under the current system candidates are forbidden from entering the porters’ lodges on polling day. However, as Mr. Mackrory pointed out, if voting could take place in student rooms it would be difficult to prevent candidates gaining access to residences.
One suggestion that found favour with many Council members was to have electronic polling stations. This would combine the advantages of the computer system with the opportunity to observe students as they vote.
In response to Mr. Hogan’s mention of the ‘buzz’ generated by casting votes, LUSU President Michael Payne suggested that this could equally be created by candidates getting out and speaking to as many students as possible during the campaign period.
A vote was taken and the motion in favour of e-voting was passed subject to a detailed description of how it will be implemented being brought to the Council in Week Nine.
Speaking about the decision after the meeting, Ms. Coleman told SCAN: “I’m happy as the Union Council agreed with the principle of our proposal and said we can now go forward but am a little disappointed people got caught up with the technological issues. It’s not about that, it’s about reaching out to as many students as we can.”