For many students, the days before the Student Union (SU) Elections all merge together into a flurry of delayed starts to lectures due to cheerful speeches, invitations to like Facebook pages of people donning brightly coloured t-shirts and the casual avoidance of those brandishing leaflets in various college buildings.
However, for a select group who wish to assist the formation of the next SU, the days of campaigning mean much more than putting up posters and animated Facebook statuses. Trinity News speaks to those previously involved in the heart of the campaigning to get a feel of what it truly is like to lead the charge during the Student Union elections.
The Electoral Commission
“Most candidates accidentally break rules out of ignorance and sanctioning candidates is primarily to negate the extra lead they receive from breaking a rule. Punishing somebody is never fun but it has to be done.”
The Chair of the Electoral Commission
Last year, Colm O’Halloran took pride of place as head of the EC during election season. O’Halloran explains how his past experiences with the EC drove his desire to take on the responsibility as Chair: “I really like democracy, elections and seeing how the inner structures of the SU work.” O’Halloran explains the busy nature of his role during this set of elections: “You have to ensure candidates have the design work for t-shirts, posters and other materials submitted and then order all of the materials. Polling assistants must be organised, hustings have to be arranged and ballot papers must be created and ordered. Last year, we ordered 5000 ballots for each elected position: a total of 30,000 ballots.”
He describes the work involved as “extensive” during the election campaign, spending long hours in college and receiving unabated email queries and Facebook messages from candidates and campaign managers. Another vital element of his position was simply checking in on the candidates: “[they] are usually under a lot of stress so I’d talk to them and try to alleviate any concerns they had.” He explains that he enjoyed getting to know the candidates, adding “it was inspiring to see that the candidates truly wanted to make a difference and help people.”
The EC committee gathers together to discuss the proceedings of the day each evening. Furthermore, they would discuss whether any candidates had broken the rules. Following this, they would “invite the candidate and/or their campaign manager in to discuss the breach in regulations.” There are two categories of misdemeanour by the candidates that the EC must intervene in: minor offences which result in sanctions and major offences which result in a strike. Following three strikes, the candidate will be called into a meeting with the EC and a member of the Trinity Law School to deliberate whether the candidate should be removed from the ballot paper. O’Halloran describes dealing with such rule breaking as the most challenging element associated with the position, particularly in relation to the “Cangate” scandal of last year: “Most candidates accidentally break rules out of ignorance and sanctioning candidates is primarily to negate the extra lead they receive from breaking a rule. Punishing somebody is never fun but it has to be done.”
Mulling over the change from a two-week campaign period to one week, O’Halloran approves of the change: “The shorter period allows them to get their message across concisely and decreases the strain on candidates.” In the future, he would love to see the implementation of an online voting system which he firmly believes would increase turn out and assist those in off campus locations to vote more easily.
The Campaign Manager
“Keeping yourself and the candidate going was challenging but perseverance was key.”
The campaign manager can seem like as omnipresent a figure alongside the candidates themselves. In 2016, Shane Rice acted as campaign manager for the ultimately successful candidate for the SU Presidency, Kieran McNulty, a time he reflects upon with great fondness: “Kieran was a close friend and I knew he was more than capable of running the SU. He had a vision and plans which I was fully in agreement with.” Rice describes his duties as campaign manager: “Managing a campaign has a few different aspects to it, you are primarily there to manage the logistics but you also have to look out for the candidate, making sure they’re doing alright, you oversee the message that’s being sent out and that it’s in line with the overall vision of the campaign.”
Along with McNulty and the rest of the campaign core team, Rice worked closely on getting McNulty’s message across to the student body. This formed part of Rice’s favourite moments of partaking in the election campaign. He explains that he truly enjoyed “getting to talk to people and see how they actually engaged with the campaigns.” Echoing all involved, he admits “It was a stressful two weeks but looking back now it is enjoyable.”
Rice cites “stamina” as the biggest issue he had to face: “Keeping yourself and the candidate going was challenging but perseverance was key.” However, like O’Halloran, he agrees that shortening the campaign process from two weeks to one was a definite brainwave: “Hopefully with the changes to the process this year, [stamina] won’t be as much of an issue.”
“By putting yourself into such a public position you are opening yourself up to scrutiny not just of your ideas but also sometimes who you are as a person […]”
The characters at the forefront of this period are those whose faces smile down from their posters plastered down on noticeboards all around the campus. Those who decide to run for election are not just giving up hours of lectures; they are also willing to offer an entire year to help other students.
Dale Ó Faoilléacháin, current Education Officer, explains what led him to making the vital choice to run: “I was in a huge internal conflict around September/October 2015 as to whether I should run for the position. I was a faculty convenor so I was quite aware of that the position entailed. In the end, however, my passion for wanting to make a change prevailed and I took a week off my placement in February to enter the elections.”
Ó Faoilléacháin recalls the strategy he implemented in the run up to the elections- from meeting students and staff during Michaelmas term to asking close pal, Jenna Clarke Molloy to act as his campaign manager whose “enthusiasm and friendly face” Ó Faoilléacháin feels were an integral part of his win. Ó Faoilléacháin also opted to publish a series of blogs to clarify his manifesto points.
Ó Fáilleacháin valued the impact of the hustlings as it offered him a platform to flesh out his manifesto points. However, Ó Fáilleacháin objects to the treatment sometimes experienced by candidates by the student body: “By putting yourself into such a public position you are opening yourself up to scrutiny not just of your ideas but also sometimes who you are as a person. I, along with many other candidates running, found it extremely difficult at times to listen to rumours being spread about you and having no idea where they started.”
Overall, Ó Fáilleacháin praises the opportunity for students to run for a leadership role but he urges candidates to focus on enjoying the campaign time instead of attempting to outdo the opponents in the race: “Your ideas and your goals can shape the future of Trinity and that should be the sole focus of your campaign throughout. By focusing on strategising during the campaign period to try outdo your opponents, you are neglecting the opportunity to get your central message across.”
The Campaign Team Member
“When you are completely removed from it, it is easy to be judgemental about it.”
Entering the SU as a class rep in her first year, Jeevika Roberts grew more involved in the SU at the urging of friends who informed her of how much fun the elections would be. In her first year alone, she was on four campaign teams. She describes “a lot of bonding”, adding that she made “a lot of really good friends”.
However, she believes that the uninitiated do not truly understand that it is a very stressful time: “it does start to dominate your life.” Going to lectures becomes a worthy pursuit as it offers those heavily involved a chance to escape the constant campaign chatter: “It’s really easy to become submerged in it.” Jeevika recalls. She notes that while the results of the election can make a difference, it really should not be such a trying time for those opting to partake. Simply ensuring that the candidate eats and take breaks is essential for the role.
She comments “It obviously can make a difference but it is only for a year.”
When asked about the receptiveness of candidates during her involvement through various years, she instantly recalls the election of February 2015: “There were many candidates running and I felt like people were more understanding. You were more likely to have a friend that needed your help.” However she does understand why many students are not so welcoming to the leaflet brandishing bunches that take over: “When you are completely removed from it, it is easy to be judgemental about it.” However that is not a factor for those deeply involved: “It is taken very seriously by the people actually in the campaigns and the wider college community doesn’t really care.”
Overall, the campaigners have many amusing anecdotes from their time involved at the forefront of the campaigning process- from dancing with the Trinitones for one candidate’s campaign in front of the library to pizza and burrito breaks with the other campaign team members to the excitement of Count Night that ends in Coppers. Although Jeevika is not as heavily involved this year, she does feel, like all those TN has spoken to, that the elections shouldn’t be so demanding for candidates.