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The introduction of e-voting led to minor problems but an unprecedented increase in voter turnout in the Week Eight elections, especially for JCR officers.
The JCR and LUSU Part-time Officer elections replaced paper ballots with a new e-voting system, allowing students to vote anywhere from a computer or phone. Public laptops were also available in porters’ lodges throughout the day. For the first time voting was open for 24 hours, from 2.00 on Thursday afternoon to 2.00 on Friday.
Throughout the entire 24-hour voting period a total of 3007 votes were cast, the highest voter turnout in LUSU records. When compared to the previous election this showed an increase in turnout by over 30%.
“The turnout was definitely a lot higher than we had hoped, and was a testament to how well the JCRs really did [as well as] all the Chairs, Social Secs for putting on the events, and the Chief Returning Officer Kat Goulding,” said Andy Johnston, LUSU VP (FEDS). Along with Goulding, Johnston was responsible for overseeing the elections.
Over 20% of students in every undergraduate college voted. Lonsdale led the way with 36% of their students voting in at least one of the elections, followed by Cartmel and Pendle with around 30% each. The only exception to this trend was Graduate College, whose turnout fell to 2.6% (108 votes). This may have been due to the fact that the main GSA election was in Week Four and most of the positions up for election in Week Eight were uncontested.
For the first two hours of voting, however, things did not go quite as smoothly as expected; when polls opened the servers were overloaded with students wanting to vote. With each voting page taking, in some cases, up to 10 minutes to load, people began to get frustrated. This clearly affected voting numbers, with the first position on the list of Part Time Officers, Academic Council Chair, getting nearly twice as many votes than the final few positions.
“It’s so slow people can only be bothered to vote for the ones they really care about,” one student said.
Once the problem was noticed MiVoice, the company running the e-voting system, and LUSU worked together quickly to resolve the issue and ensure that it shouldn’t be a problem again. The website began to speed up and by the early evening students were able to vote quickly and easily. By Friday afternoon when the voting closed most votes had already been counted electronically, saving current officers across campus a huge amount of time.
“One good thing to come out of the slow system from our point of view was the number of people who persevered to make their vote,” said Goulding. “It’s inspiring to know that so many people care about the union and the officers elected that they will wait however long it takes to vote. I want to assure those who did that next time the system will be much faster.”
Another problem was that a small number of people didn’t receive emails with their voting codes or had accidentally deleted them. Johnston and the MiVoice team responded to these issues as they came in. Around 10 people needed to be sent new codes entirely, a tiny percentage in comparison to the total voting population.
Nevertheless Johnson felt that the JCR and LUSU Part-time Officer elections weren’t the final test of the e-voting system. “Sabbatical Elections are where it will be really tested,” he said, adding that “It was a big positive for the first time it was run.”
Student opinion on the new system was divided, with some criticising the slowness of the system and the lack of atmosphere on campus and others embracing it wholeheartedly. One of the most popular aspects was the opportunity to view a candidate’s manifesto and photograph before voting.
“The manifestos and optional information are good, it means people are making a more informed decision,” one candidate said.
Despite an increase in voter turnout, though, only JCR elections had an observable increase in votes counted. The amount of votes cast in the LUSU Part-time Officer (formerly non-sabbatical) elections remained at the same level as the last election. Although the exact reason for this is unknown, students have said that they wished to vote for people they knew, and were uncertain what some Part-time Officers’ roles actually were.
In the Part-time Officer elections the most contested position was Chair of Socials and Events Committee. With three candidates running, Matt Windsor was eventually elected with 474 votes.
Another well-contested position, Welfare Campaigns Officer, was one of the most closely fought. Pete Macmillan finished just 72 votes ahead of Hannah Sauer, a close margin for a campus-wide election. Chair of Elections was also won by a tight margin, with Samantha Johnson beating Mike Clarke by 89 votes. The largest margin was for the position of Student Trustee, with Tom Skarbek-Wazynski winning by almost 450 votes.
In the JCR elections, the most contested presidency was County, which had four candidates and was won by Matthew Saint. The most controversial, however, was Pendle; eventual winner David Kennedy was reprimanded for comments made against other candidates in his hust. Kennedy has run for college President for three consecutive years, finally triumphing this year despite being warned for his conduct.
Furness and Fylde’s positions were both contested by two candidates, with Luke Anderson and George Gardiner winning respectively. Lonsdale will be the only college run by joint Presidents, Katie Kitney and Matthew Power, who also beat one other candidate to the position. Bowland, Cartmel and Grizedale’s positions were all uncontested.
However, the closest battle of the day came from Cartmel. With two candidates running for Vice President, Jessica Horsfield and Michael Benson, Horsfield won the contest by just three votes, 159 to 156. The new JCR execs will take office from January.
In an attempt to promote elections to students across campus, Johnston, Goulding and JCR teams worked together to run a series of election parties in college bars on the Thursday night. JCR and Part-time Officer candidates were in the bars answering questions from students and a variety of activities were put on.
Fylde held a ‘Race to Elections’ event, whilst Lonsdale put on a karaoke night, ‘Lonnie Idol’, and Furness threw an American-themed party. Many colleges invited their JCR candidates to make 30-second husts throughout the evening for the benefit of students who had not yet voted.
Students and JCR candidates liked the idea of the parties and felt they would be successful in increasing turnout. “I think it’s brilliant, it gets loads of different people into the bar,” said Victoria Buxton from Pendle.
Some felt, though, that an earlier event would make voter turnout even greater. “It would be better if it was held before voting started, maybe after hustings,” commented Grizedale student Holly Johnson.
LUSU Officer candidates, however, struggled to get round all the bars in one evening. “It’s a really good idea but it’s a bit difficult for people running in campus-wide elections,” said Sarah Newport, candidate for Part-time LGBTQ Officer. “You are going to miss a lot of people.”
In addition, some college parties clashed with previously-arranged events. As well as an election party Grizedale Bar hosted a fundraiser for the British Heart Foundation organised by students from CEEC’s Insight into Projects and Events Management course, and Cartmel was booked out for the Week Eight Comedy Night.
President of Cartmel JCR Robbie Pickles was disappointed that his college was unable to participate more fully in elections promotion. “For Cartmel next year the JCR and elections sub-committee will need to work more closely to ensure that it doesn’t clash with an established LUSU event,” he said.