Despite confusion during online voting system trial, record participation in class rep elections

Online voting links sent out late, students voting in the wrong elections, and reps wrongly elected identified in SU Class rep election report

Poor execution of an online voting system trial led to confusion and mistakes in several schools, however overall engagement in class rep elections has gone up, says Trinity College Dublin Student Union’s (TCDSU) annual report on class rep elections.

The report, jointly published by SU Education Officer Niamh McCay and Chair of Electoral Commission Sadbh Brennan, is the third of its kind, following an SU motion mandating the report in 2017. It “documents the nomination and election process, highlights the issues that arose and aims to suggest…how improvements can be made”

The report shows that the greatest challenges arose with the online voting system trialled in the School of Computer Science and Statistics, Engineering, Medicine, and Nursing and Midwifery. These schools’ votes were processed exclusively online. 

Due to uncertainty regarding whether the system would be ready to implement, the Electoral Commission was only notified the online system would be going ahead the night before voting began. This led to classes receiving the voting link late, sometimes on Wednesday or Thursday. Several classes saw the voting period extended due to not receiving the link before voting ended. Occupation Therapy received no votes, suggesting they never received a link. 

The confusion surrounding the online voting process led to other problems. Due to lack of publicity, many students were unaware that their class was voting online until the day of voting. In some cases, paper ballots were mistakenly distributed to classes voting online and could not be counted. Voting links which were circulated through group chats in an attempt to reach students as soon as possible led to some students voting in the wrong election. 

However, the facility of voting online led to a higher proportion of student voters in the schools which had implemented the online voting. The SU report suggests in future years liaising with school administration in advance to ensure the circulation of the correct links, or to obtain student emails directly from blackboard. 

The 2019 election cycle saw an improvement in several sectors, most significantly in engagement. The paper ballots, which were late last year, all arrived on time and there were no unforeseen issues. The TCDSU received what they claim to be the highest number of class rep nominations ever, with 790 names being put forward. This led to 371 of 494 class rep positions being filled, 93 more than last year and 49 more than the year before. 

There was a clear disparity in participation between paper nominations and the online version. The TCDSU attributed this variation to the persuasive abilities of part time officers as well as additional incentives such as free pringles and class rep training which they could draw focus to. 

 A number of nominations were received from Masters students, whom are not represented by TCDSU, as well as nominations which could not be processed due to illegible handwriting. The report recommends clearer communication with postgraduates in future years, as well as emphasis on the online voting system to avoid processing errors and save paper. 

A week before the first council it was discovered that several class reps had been wrongfully elected due to an error in the system which could not have been identified in earlier test runs. The order in classes with more than five nominations had been switched. The correct candidates were then identified and notified. 

Because of the potential for error, the TCDSU did not recommend rolling out online elections in Sabbat elections due to the importance of the roles being elected. However, the potential for higher engagement makes it a good option for JCR Elections and future class rep elections, provided the administrative issues are sorted out. 

Despite hiccups in the new systems, the number of class rep positions filled overall was “impressively high…compared to previous years”, and the report was “happy” with the result.