Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) Education Officer, Alice MacPherson, and Chair of the Electoral Commission, Gillian Kiely, have jointly produced a report on the Class Rep Elections of 2017. The report has been published following a Motion at the SU Council of 24 October which mandates the production of an annual report on Class Rep Elections.
Speaking to Trinity News, MacPherson said: “The report itself is not supposed to solve problems, it is to comprehensively identify them so we can begin working on them.”
The report outlines issues that have arisen in Class Rep Elections in 2017 and previous years. It identifies problems, good practice, and areas of improvement in communication and engagement, elections and polling, and representation and systems.
Communication with candidates is identified as a critical issue. Some candidates were unaware of what candidacy entailed and raised questions around the rules of campaigning for the position. The report notes that “in a few rare cases, students had been nominated by classmates and were unaware of their candidacy.”
The report acknowledged TCDSU’s duty of “transparency, accountability and democratic practice” that it must offer students. The report outlines the shortcomings of elections in this sense with regard to late nominations. Typically, late nominations are received after the closing date for a class with no candidates and are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. This issue was raised at the SU Council on 24 October following 172 classes submitting zero nominations by the closing date.
Additionally, difficulties with communication and engagement are highlighted with regards to internal elections held by schools and engagement of Junior Freshman students in the nomination process, who may be intimidated by the requirement to seek a classmate’s seconding of the nomination.
TCDSU ran “What is a Class Rep?” talks in Freshers’ orientation week and the following week, in accordance with a motion to Council in 2016-17. Also, many students were recruited in the nomination process through interaction at stands in Halls and Front Square during Freshers’ week.
The report identifies that challenges arising with elections and polling include polling times, which are not always well suited to students. Despite the publishing of times – which changed daily – on SU social media and emails, there were problems in off-campus locations for students to access polling stations during opening times. Additionally, certain polling stations in the Arts Block, Hamilton, D’Olier, and St James’ hospital were not easily identifiable, resulting in students missing the opportunity to vote.
Student cards are scanned at polling stations to ensure no student can vote twice. The report outlines that the scanning of a student card, however, does not allow the Electoral Commission to check a students’ class or if their card is in date. Theoretically, a holder of a student card could vote even if they are no longer a student.
There were several mistakes printed on the ballots this election period. Several names were misspelt, while some other students were listed on the wrong ballot or missing from the ballot entirely.
Some students were not clear on the method of voting. The system used in Class Rep Elections is Single Transferable Vote. A number of ballots were excluded from the valid poll due to misunderstandings of how STV works.
Furthermore, the report explores issues regarding the adequacy of representation and management of the class rep system.
The number of reps per class is of concern. The SU allocates 1 class rep for 60 students. However, yearly changes in student numbers can mean large classes, such as General Science, are inadequately represented while decreases in other class’ student numbers have led to overrepresentation by reps.
Representation across various locations is another issue for consideration. Some classes which are split between two or more locations, particularly clinical courses, can have class reps all on placement in one location. Consequently, students on placement elsewhere have limited access to a class rep.
The Management System used to store names, email addresses and student numbers of all candidates for class rep, is of critical importance for the SU. However, the system requires manual updates and can quickly become out-of-date.
The report outlines several recommendations for future improvement of class rep elections. Some are short term which will be addressed by the Education Officer in consultation with relevant authorities and officers in order to make these changes for the sabbatical elections in February 2018, where relevant.
These include the development of a strategy document for increasing student engagement with elections and impartial information to be provided to students on the Single Transferable Vote system at polling stations.
Further considerations to be accounted for in future class rep elections include revision of the ‘1 per 60’ rule, the introduction of a secure online voting system, and increased communication with schools and potential candidates prior to the election. Additionally, reviews will be undertaken of polling times and the process for filling positions in unrepresented classes. Ballots will be ordered as early as possible to allow for the limiting of mistakes and misprints.