Electoral Reforms to be put to Council

This evening's meeting of QUBSU Council is set to be a lively one. Not only will council deal with “Issues arising from the 2013 Union of Students in Ireland (USI) Congress,” but there have also been a number of constitutional amendments suggested with a view to reforming sabbatical officer election procedures.

The elections, held at the beginning of March each year have traditionally stirred up a large amount of controversy, and fine toothed combing of rules. As they stand, many election rules are written with paper ballots in mind, making many rules out of date, as all votes are now cast on QOL. Following some disputes arising from the March 2013 elections, some councillors are targeting various rules for reform, as well as proposing new rules. Practices targeted for change include the practice of 'ticketing', the participation of sabbatical officers in office during election campaigns, the proposed introduction of an allocated SU approved printer, stricter regulation of outside endorsements, the outlawing of offering a laptop or tablet on which to vote during canvassing, an introduction of a rule that all canvassers must be QUB students or recent graduates (with an exception for siblings), and a restriction of polling hours to between 7am and 7pm, rather than the current standard of 24 hour polling available over three days.

The proposed constitutional amendments can be read below in full.

6.4       Amend:           Rule 2 (Elections)

We have noted feel that the practice commonly known as ‘ticketing’ as it currently stands (multiple candidates running together unrestricted) is harmful to the electoral spirit, and in the long term detrimental to electoral turnout.

We feel that a small number of candidates running together is a fine thing and encourages electoral participation, and a spirit of camaraderie and friendship between students who would normally not normally share such, we feel that to ban candidate collusion entirely would be detrimental to the electoral spirit.

However, the practice of running tickets in which every position is occupied discourages such a spirit, and fosters division and exclusion, as candidates who would normally run find themselves unable to do so, feeling that such would be a pointless endeavour. This practice therefore makes the elections less representative.

Furthermore, we feel that this practice is partly the reason for decreasing electoral turnout in recent years, as well as a decrease in the number of independent and small ticket candidates.

Finally, we feel that the result of the election of a 7-person ticket could be detrimental to officer accountability, and furthermore the election of a majority of candidates form one ticket and a single candidate from another could lead to a spirit of unnecessary division and exclusion in the sabbatical office.

Therefore Insert between 9.19 and 9.20, and renumber accordingly:

 

“No candidate shall be a member of a ticket. Tickets are hereby defined as a group or collection of candidates running for half or more of the open posts which purposely share or appear together on any of the following: printed election material, team name, slogan, logo, banners, websites, clothing, email communication, campaign videos, social media advertising or any other.”

6.5       Amend:           Rule 2 (Elections)

Amend 9.31 from:

“Sabbatical Officers are free to take part in an Election in the same manner as any other student. However, they must not abuse their position in any way in the furtherance of an Election campaign. In particular, they must not take part in any Election campaign during hours of work unless they have been granted annual leave.”

To:

“Sabbatical Officers and salaried union employees must not abuse their position by using any Students’ Union or University resources unavailable to other students in any way in the furtherance of any election campaign or by taking part in any Election campaign during hours of work unless they have been granted annual leave.”

6.6       Amend:           Rule 2 (Elections)

“An amendment to increase parity between candidates in the field of printing costs.”

The increased availability of paper and printing, as well as the decrease in the cost of both since the last amendment of this section of the constitution mean that the same amount of money will allow any individual to acquire much more printed material for their money. Having a good relationship with a printer also means that unfair discounts can be acquired that would not be available to other candidates. This manipulation, known commonly as ‘mates’ rates’ or ‘backhanders’ is contrary to the spirit of fairness and openness and the democratic ideal which runs through the elections.

This amendment intends to introduce an ‘equivalent rate’ which shall be held in common for all candidates based on a publicly available price from a union approved printing company. We feel that this will reduce the capacity for electoral fraud, and also allow the SU to control better the amount of paper materials that are produced and overused

Therefore amend 9.9.6

From:

“All leaflets, handouts and other printed Election material issued by the candidate or on his/her behalf in the furtherance of their campaign must be printed by the Students’ Union. These and other forms of Election campaign material must be authorised by the Returning Officer and a costing calculated

before they may be produced and used. The cost of these forms of Election campaign material must not exceed £60.00 (2007 is the base year for this amount, which will increase annually by the rate of RPI);”

To:

“All leaflets, handouts and other printed Election material issued by the candidate or on their behalf in the furtherance of their campaign must be authorised and approved by the Returning Officer and marked as such before they may be used.  Before each election, the Returning Officer shall produce and publish a rate sheet for all printed materials in line with university printing costs, not less than two weeks prior to the close of nominations.  All printed materials for all candidates shall be assumed to cost what they do on the rate sheet.  The total cost of all forms of Election campaign material must not exceed £60.00 per candidate (2007 is the base year for this amount, which will increase annually by the rate of RPI);”

6.7       Amend:           Rule 2 (Elections), Section 9.32, to read:

“The Returning Officer shall be the sole arbitrator in all matters relating to the election. He / she shall liaise with members of the Council and relevant University and Union staff to draft a document that details the penalties that will be applied for specific breaches of Rul

es and any questionable conduct.  This document should be presented to the Council at the Inaugural Meeting every two years and, once accepted, can be circulated to all students, and specifically to election candidates upon receipt of their nomination.”

6.8       Amend:           Rule 2 (Elections)

“an Amendment to limit the effects of external endorsement on the QUBSU sabbatical elections”

We, the undersigned, feel that the current rules surrounding external support need additional clarification.             The elections this year brought into question exactly what constitutes support from an external organisation, and what effect they can have on the elections. On the one hand, we feel that the inclusion of local businesses and political groups in our SU elections makes QUB a more prominent institution within the local community.  On the other, we understand that candidates can use local businesses to gain underhanded leverage through the use of mailing lists, social media pages, and brand name, and can use local political groups to acquire seasoned political canvassers and other electoral staff.

We feel that the use of endorsement and support makes the elections less of a “by students, for students” affair, however that the expression of support itself is not detrimental to same.

Therefore, insert between 9.30 and 9.31 (and renumber accordingly, as required):

“Although candidates may be endorsed by private individuals, corporate interests and financial concerns, candidates may not use endorsement or support from private, corporate or political interests to further their campaign.

6.9       Amend:           Rule 2 (Elections)

“an Amendment to ensure clarity and transparency of intent for canvassers and candidates for their actions by limiting their discourse with voters whilst in the act of voting, and restricting the use of wi-fi devices”

We, the undersigned, feel that the use of Wi-Fi enabled devices often forms a sticking point in the electoral process.  We understand that the ability of canvassers to use these devices to display multimedia electoral materials increases the voter turnout, and that this is a commendable and resourceful use of these devices.

However, we also understand that offering a potential voter a device on which to vote constitutes an act which disables most non-politically minded students from making a considered and fair decision, given that they would not have had sufficient time to read and criticise the policies of all candidates, thusly leading them to make an improperly informed decision.

Further, we understand that the momentary peer-pressure created by being approached by canvassers and asked to vote on a device handed to the voter is not properly understood or legislated for by either the current constitution or by the electoral handbook.

Therefore, we propose:

Add between 9.9.2 and 9.9.3, and renumber as appropriate:

“No candidate or canvasser shall offer the use of a laptop computer, mobile phone, tablet computer or any other similar device to a voter for the purposes of voting.” and “no candidate or canvasser shall knowingly converse with a voter during the time in which the said voter is in the act of voting.”

6.10     Amend:           Rule 2 (Elections)

“an Amendment to ensure that canvassers must be current members of Queens' Students Union, recent graduates and the immediate family of candidates.”

We, the undersigned, feel that the QUBSU Sabbatical Elections, as an annual highlight of the Students’ Union, should be an event “by students, for students and of students” and allowing non-students, and those with no current affiliation with the University to assist with any campaign damages this spirit, whist conferring an additional home field advantage to candidates from this area over candidates from other areas.

Furthermore, we believe that the current regulations allow for certain candidates to leverage assistance from outside groups with PR resources which confer on those candidates an unfair advantage, such as political parties and pressure groups and PR and marketing campaigns.

Finally, we feel that these non-students are unaccountable to both Election Court and University Regulations, meaning that their actions can bring the electoral process and the University into disrepute.

Therefore Insert between 9.24 and 9.25

“All canvassers must be able to prove themselves, when required to be either a current Queen’s student or one who has graduated from Queen’s not more than twelve months prior to the election.  Exceptions shall be made for immediate family of the candidate.”

6.11     Amend:           Rule 2 (Elections)

“an Amendment to restrict the hours in which polling is available on QOL from 0700hrs to 1900hrs (GMT) per diem for the welfare of the candidates or canvassers.”

We, the undersigned, feel that the current electoral time frame (24 hours per day for three days) provides a great deal of stress for candidates and canvassers, and is detrimental to their welfare.  Furthermore, we feel that the ability to canvass in private residences after the hours of night can cause controversy and a lack of transparency which can be damaging for candidates.

Therefore, insert between 9.9.1 and 9.9.2 (and renumber as required):

 

“the polling shall be available through Queens Online between the hours of 0700 and 1900 GMT each polling day.”

6.11     Amend:           Rule 2 (Elections)

“an Amendment to ensure the integrity of the sabbatical officers and offices during elections by restricting them from campaigning, except as normal students.”

We, the undersigned, feel that, although Sabbatical Officers have all of the rights in the elections that a normal student might have, their position carries with it an extra degree of responsibility not only to ensure their own integrity and that of the office they hold, but also to encourage participation in the elections.

Understanding that in this election, certain actions by serving sabbatical officers may have been considered to be utilising resources unavailable to a normal student, and that such sentiment, whether false or true damage the integrity of the electoral process and of the office they hold by appearing nepotistic.

Further understanding that such support may deter future candidates from running, and thus damage the electoral process, we propose the following rephrasing:

Rephrase 9.31 from:

“Sabbatical Officers are free to take part in an Election in the same manner as any other student. However, they must not abuse their position in any way in the furtherance of an Election campaign. In particular, they must not take part in any Election campaign during hours of work unless they have been granted annual leave.”

To:

“Sabbatical Officers and salaried union employees must not abuse their position by using any Students’ Union or University resources unavailable to other students in any way in the furtherance of any election campaign or by taking part in any Election campaign during hours of work unless they have been granted annual leave.”

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