InFocus: the Association Elections Committee

Discussing how easy they find it to keep on top of everything that is going on before and after campaigning begins, Mr Maguire makes clear that “it's a challenge,” and Ms Bennett jokes that she doesn’t “think we are going to get any studying done this fortnight.”

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Photo: Harry Gunning

The Saint sat down with Charlie Maguire and Aine Bennett of the Association elections committee to discuss all of the behind-the-scenes work the committee does, the many changes  that  have  been  made, the elections process this year, and the importance of taking  part in the elections.

Speaking of how she got involved in the elections committee, Ms Bennett said that “six members of the elections committee are co-opted from councils, so I volunteered to join in. I wasn’t going to run for anything because I’m going abroad next year, but I get pretty excited about elections, so I wanted to be as involved as possible.”

Mr Maguire, however, is co-opted to the committee from outside the Association, “so I am basically just a student with no official job within the Association this year.” He does note  that  having  previously  been the Barron theatre manager, On The Rocks executive, and a duty manager for Freshers’ Week means that he’s “clued up about the Union.”

With regards to the make-up of the  elections committee  this  year, Ms Bennett explains the importance of diversity, saying, “We wanted at least one postgrad, someone who is on a Union subcommittee, someone who is involved in the AU, and a first year. Just because there is a bit of a perceived bubble around the Union, and that is something we would like to discourage and get more people involved.

“There is an elections committee convened  in  first  semester  to  write the rules, and then that is dissolved in case anyone on that committee wants to run, because obviously it is so far in advance most people wouldn’t have thought about that.”

Speaking about the differences between  running  a  campaign  and being  on  the elections  committee, Ms Bennett said, “I think the hardest thing is that, being on elections committee, you are not allowed an opinion. We have to be completely impartial because otherwise it is not fair at all.”

Mr Maguire added, “I’ve run two sabbatical campaigns, and I have noticed that this is more work than the sabbatical campaigns were.”

Ms Bennett, who has previously held the Association position of community  relations  officer,  elaborated further, saying, “I think it does depend on the race how much it takes over your life, but this is a very interesting dichotomy of having that professional removal, yet it is still all-consuming and all you are thinking about is elections.”

In terms of their duties as part of the elections committee, Ms Bennett describes the main tasks when someone’s nomination comes in.

She said, “You proof read it, you check  their  photo  is  the  right  way up, accept the nomination, send out a tweet,  [and]  send  them  an  email with all the admin stuff they have to do. And then we’re there all the time for any kind of enquiries or concerns people have.”

Mr Maguire explains their role as “basically to link up the committee itself with the sabbatical officers who are members of the elections committee but also have their day-to-day jobs to be doing as well, and link up the candidates with the press.”

He notes the added complication that “students start to interact with elections way  before campaigning starts. So for us it’s a case of trying to join all the dots together.”

Ms Bennett makes clear another important aspect of their role, saying, “There’s also  the discipline  side  of elections, so we’re in charge of making sure people follow the rules.”

Discussing how easy they find it to keep on top of everything that is going on before and after campaigning begins, Mr Maguire makes clear that “it’s a challenge,” and Ms Bennett jokes that she doesn’t “think we are going to get any studying done this fortnight.”

Mr Maguire explains that “this is the first time that two non-sabbaticals have been appointed as deputy senior officers. The thinking behind that was just to take a different perspective, and [let] people who can, theoretically, devote more time to the job be able to get more involved.”

Ms Bennett said they were asked earlier in the week if they would give the role back to  sabbatical officers next year. Individuals asked “is it a fair amount of work to put on people while they are studying?” But in her opinion, “it is definitely doable. It just requires a lot of management. We’ve been told that we have gone above and beyond what  is expected,  but to be honest I don’t think that either Charlie or I would be happy to do less. Especially because we both see the elections as being so important, I wouldn’t want to do a half-assed job.”

Furthermore, Mr Maguire believes that the changes made to the elections committee this year have encouraged more people to get involved in elections “because we tend to keep the door open to the office, and quite often anybody who’s outside of what some people perceive as the ‘bubble’ of the Union, if they see three sabbatical officers sat at the desk and they are in first year then it is fairly intimidating. So just having two normal  people  breaks that down a bit.”

Ms Bennett added, “It  also helps that the office  is  bang in the middle of the Union this  year. I feel it is much better that people can just walk past and be like ‘oh, I’ll come in and look on the wall and see who’s nominated and actually maybe I’ll run for that, and while I’m here I can ask some questions.’’’

For Mr Maguire, having a bigger elections committee, increasing  from 10 members last year to 21 this year, has been really important, as it “means that we can have people in more places, we can have elections officers outside the library, we can have them at more events, just basically to increase visibility.”

Another important change this year was the introduction of flyerless campaigning.  However,  this  wasn’t an easy concept to agree upon, and Ms Bennett recalled the lengthy discussions  in committee  meetings. “Everyone was like ‘what does that mean?  Can I have  business cards? Can I have bookmarks?’ We had a forty minute debate about ‘what if  it  is made of card? and should we set a size limit?’ So in the end we just decided on no paper.” Not only does this new rule help the environment, but Ms Bennett said it “makes campaigning more creative. It means candidates actually have to talk to you rather than just hand you a flyer, which, hopefully, should increase engagement.”

Mr Maguire points out that when issues such as these arise in meetings, “it requires us to think creatively to solve problems. We have had questions  about pre-campaigning, when candidates have started their campaign early, and we have to determine whether it’s intentional or unintentional.”

“We’ve had to develop a definition this week,” said Ms Bennett. “We’ve said  anything  that  would  change someone’s  mind  prior to the start of campaigning counts as pre-campaigning. It’s public knowledge that someone has been nominated, so you can spread that information but not express an opinion that would influence someone until campaigning officially begins.”

Moving on to discuss the voting process, Mr Maguire explained that when  voting  opens  on  Thursday, “every student gets the chance to vote for all Association positions, so that includes sabbaticals,  association  officers, [and] members of the SSC and SRC. Then there is the slightly separate election which is for the school presidents, so every student within a certain school gets to vote for that president.”

Mr Maguire goes on to share a lesser known fact: school president votes are “based on your credits within that school, so I’m a management and  international  relations  student, and  this  semester  I’m doing  thirty credits in international relations and twenty  credits  in  management. My vote in the school of international relations has a  slightly grander weighting than my vote in the school  of management. It just means that voting is a better  reflection of people  in each school.”

When voting closes on Friday at 5 pm, Mr Maguire suggests that the committee members are “all going to run and hide.”

While he acknowledges that with the voting system being single transferable vote, counting up the votes is  a  very time-consuming process. However, “it does make a big difference, and it is a great reflection of what people actually want.”

Results start coming in at 8 pm on Friday, and Ms Bennett draws particular attention to the Elections Bop that begins after the sabbatical results have been announced. While results are live tweeted, meaning that students don’t have to come to the Union to find out who won each race, Mr Maguire added that “we would love them to [come] because it is a great night out afterwards. It’s a celebration, and hopefully good things will happen.”

Ms Bennett and Mr Maguire both agree that people voting is something worth celebrating. Mr Maguire said that while “people always get worried about the outcomes of these things, I don’t.”

Ms Bennett said she too “has faith in the students of St Andrews.” For her, these elections are important because “I really think that the Students’ Association has a completely transformative effect on the students who are involved in it.” She believes that “it gives you these amazing skills that you wouldn’t get anywhere else, and you get opportunities to achieve incredible things through the Students’ Association.” None of that could happen without “the best possible people managing the association and leading these projects. I think these elections have a much wider impact than most people realise.”

Mr Maguire reveals the importance  of  taking  part  in student elections on a wider scale, saying that university “is the training ground for being  grown-ups.  This is a good chance to start to understand what makes for a good candidacy, why people get involved in things, and why  issues matter  to  people. You learn to cook at university, you learn to make friends, so you should learn about voting as well.”

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