This year, for the first time, part-time LUSU and JCR elections will be held electronically on the internet. The new e-voting system is one that has been met with overwhelmingly positive responses, with students calling it “essential” and “overdue”.
Voting takes place on Thursday of Week Eight at 2pm at http://democracy.lusu.co.uk/, with polls staying open for 24 hours. It is expected that this will increase participation in this week’s elections.
The recent Graduate Students’ Association elections – most probably the union’s last ballot paper election – had a very disappointing turnout with just over a hundred of the potential 3,500 strong electorate voting. It is hoped by LUSU that the adoption of e-voting will greatly improve the numbers participating in elections across the university.
Previously, voters would complete a paper ballot in the college porters lodges. Turnout numbers had been gradually decreasing as voters were disillusioned by a system seen by some as out of date and irrelevant. Spoilt ballot papers were also a major issue with the previous system. E-voting removes the possibility of spoils and helps to make voting more convenient to all students, in particular those living off campus.
Any computer connected to the internet can be used to vote for candidates with the use of the voter’s LUSU number for identification. The new website also allows voters to view a photo of the candidate, as well as their full manifesto to describe what exactly the candidate will do should they be elected. This enables a more informed decision to be made, which is expected to increase the credibility of the elections by putting policy back at the forefront of the vote.
LUSU are hoping for the new system to encourage further exploration of methods of engagement with the wider student body, while in particular attempting to rejuvenate the election process as a whole, which has been experiencing flagging interest amongst students.
Andy Johnston, LUSU VP (Finance, Events, Democracy, and Societies), suggests that it will allow students “flexibility to approach the elections process process and look at a lot of additional information about the candidate, thus becoming a more informed voter.”
The e-voting system was passed by the union council in June of this year, ending years of debate over the issue, with suggestions said to have been made for implementation of the idea as far back as 2003. Johnston believes that the system is “something that could really prove a turning point for engagement in Lancaster.”
Students seem to appreciate the implementation of the system, with Ali Shaw, a first year in Lonsdale College, saying “I think it will increase participation, but it depends on the effectiveness of the system. If someone does it and tells their friends it took them ages, they won’t bother voting”.
Another student, Paul Hannah, also of Lonsdale, believes that the previous system may have felt like more of an event than the new system might, saying “[while] some people could be more inclined to vote due to greater ease, some may be less inclined to vote due to lack of an event status.”
LUSU held a ‘trial run’ of the e-voting system recently, promoted through posters on campus and via the internet. Students were encouraged to participate in the short test of the system by prizes being awarded. The trial allowed the e-voting team to establish where improvements needed to be made.
Johnston assures that they “have been able to sort [problems] out and improve it to make the system a lot more robust.” As for the possibility that the system could come under pressure and have additional problems come election day, he adds that “we are as assured as we can be that the system will be fully functional in the voting period and the track record of the provider we use is excellent.”