Class rep elections this year suffered from lack of engagement and confusion surrounding voting procedures according to Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU)’s report on the 2018 class rep elections, which took place in September.
TCDSU Education Officer, Aimee Connolly, and Chair of the Electoral Commission (EC), Stephen Sheil, jointly produced the report in accordance with a motion passed at SU Council in 2017, which mandates an annual report on class rep elections.
The report is the second of its kind, containing recommendations for the improvement of class rep elections, as well as the class rep system and elections more generally. It identifies issues with communication and engagement, elections and polling, and representation and systems, and provides recommendations for future improvement in these areas.
Some issues that came to light in last year’s report remained unresolved during this year’s elections, engagement being one such issue.
Despite the promotion of elections being well-received, TCDSU saw 216 classes submit zero nominations, an increase on last year’s 172 vacant positions. The report identifies that the “What is a Class Rep?” talk during Freshers’ Week, which intended to demystify the process for first years, showed poor attendance.
The report suspects that weak engagement with the nomination process may be due to first year students being unclear on where to submit nomination forms, and finding it intimidating to approach classmates for a second nomination.
Recommendations were made for the placement of a nomination box in Front Office to simplify the process, and it was suggested that nomination forms should be brought to the Halls Freshers’ Weekend Fair to encourage an increase in engagement from first year students.
The report once again acknowledged TCDSU’s duty of providing students with “transparency, accountability, and democratic practice”. It outlines that this aim may have been compromised with regard to late nominations, which were not taken for classes that already had candidates who submitted nominations on time, irrespective of whether they were contested or not. This is to be addressed throughout the review of the SU Constitution this year.
Also to be examined in the SU Constitution review are issues regarding the filling of vacant class rep positions, and the fairness of these appointments, with revisions to be made with the intention of making these appointments more transparent.
Several issues regarding the election and polling processes were re-identified in this year’s report. The introduction of a secure online voting system was recommended again this year, following concerns surrounding the scanning of student cards at polling stations. The point was made last year that the scanning of a student card does not allow the Electoral Commission to check a students’ class or if their card is in date, meaning the holder of a student card could theoretically vote even if they are no longer a student.
Further challenges arose this year with polling times, which are not always well-suited to students, and could be a cause of poor voter turnout. The feasibility of different election times, or even election periods, for different faculties and schools is to be explored by the Education Officer in coordination with the EC, and faculty and school representatives.
Another matter remaining unresolved this year is mistakes on ballot papers. The ballots saw a number of misspelled names, with some students found to be on the wrong ballot or missing from ballots entirely and several new courses established through the Trinity Education Project (TEP) listed incorrectly on the management system.
The 2017 report advised ballots to be ordered as early as possible to allow for the limiting of mistakes and misprints. However, ballots arrived late this year on the first morning of polling despite being ordered days in advance, resulting in the SU printing their own ballots for approximately the first hour. The report advises that in the future, the order should be followed up with promptly to ensure the ballots are ready.
Misunderstanding of voting procedures re-occurred at polling stations this year. Due to the fact that a plebiscite was being run concurrently with class rep elections, some students only put down their first preference in the form of a tick and this led to confusion when more than one class rep was due to be elected.
The report recommends that impartial information be provided to students on the Single Transferable Vote system at polling stations to make sure voters are able to correctly state their preferences.
The report once again noted the difficulties that arise regarding classes which are split between two or more locations, particularly clinical courses, which can have class reps all on placement in one location. This may leave students on placement elsewhere without easy access to a class rep. The recommendation was made to identify classes that are spread across multiple locations in order to ensure all students have a local representative.
The management system used to store names, email addresses, and student numbers of all candidates for class rep remains problematic. The system requires manual updates and can quickly become out-of-date, and so the creation of a new management system is expected this academic year to ensure that class rep details can be updated on a live basis.
While many points highlighted in the report are repeated issues from last year’s elections, some new issues arose this year.
The report recommends changing the format of the nomination form whereby gender is listed, so that students can input “male”’, “female” or indicate their self-identifying gender under “other”.
Another new concern relates to TEP classes, which were changed this year and thus caused some confusion as to the amount of reps needed for the new classes. The report recommends that these classes be assessed to ensure fair representation.
Additional long-term recommendations are to be written into the TCDSU Constitution this year or explored next year, including the management system redevelopment and the change of the unfilled reps positions procedure, as well as the likely implementation of online voting.
Speaking to Trinity News, TCDSU Education Officer, Aimee Connolly, said: “Myself and Stephen compiled the report following the end of the election period. It reflects on good practice that was in place for the election period this year and also looks at improvements that can be made both in the short and long term to ensure the continuous enhancement of all SU elections.”