This year’s UCD Students’ Union (SU) Elections saw a complete overhaul of everything we’ve known to associate with the annual SU hack contest. Almost all the classic signatures of SU elections were thrown out the window due to COVID-19: frantic poster races on the concourse, repetitive lecture addressing with students saying “this is the third time I’ve heard that guy today”, students with campaign t-shirts hanging outside the voting station with flyers – ready to pounce on unsuspecting freshers, the gasps and cheers at the live hustings, the exciting coverage of the close final counts, the torturous recounts that keep everybody on the edge of their seats, and how could we forget – the celebration pints in the Clubhouse.
Last night’s Zoom call saw the announcement of the online elections. The whole fiasco was wrapped up in about half an hour just in time for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s address to the nation. It was all very quick. An anticlimactic end to a bizarre election race.
This year saw UCDSU opting to go online for the first time amid the current health crisis. The decision brought with it a whole host of issues that led to a disastrously low turnout of less than 4% of UCD students. The sudden drop in voters can probably be attributed to a range of factors: The lack of physical on-campus lobbying due to the university shutdown, the lack of targeted advertising online, the lack of many contested races and just how close the vote came before the most unusual and stressful set of exams – probably ever.
For the SU to come from an extremely vocal year on campus and in the media, the volume of uncontested races is worrying for the group. Student apathy has been an issue for decades, but when just seven students run for the five highest offices in Ireland’s largest USI-Independent Students’ Union, and a sixth office without any candidates (Graduate Officer), it looks like they have their work cut out for them in getting students back on-side. Even with the introduction of the Campaigns and Engagement Officer last year, the biggest SU event of the year struggles to garner a modest turnout.
Just 975 students voted in the elections, which represents less than 4% of the student population eligible to vote. Overseas students who are on a semester/year abroad in UCD are not eligible to vote. Of the 1,262 students who registered to vote, 77.25% successfully cast their ballots. See our full breakdown of the results here.
The online voting, which was operated by UK company Membership Services Limited, was alerted to issues in voting earlier in the week. Students using iPhones who voted through a link in the Facebook and Instagram apps, would fail to receive a “confirm your vote” popup message, potentially misleading students into believing they have voted.
Some races had a sizeable vote to Reopen Nominations (R.O.N). The highest percentage of R.O.N votes was in Conor Anderson’s uncontested Presidential race. 13.1% of voters opted to reopen nominations for SU President. A close second was Leighton Gray’s uncontested Campaigns and Engagement race. Just 12.99% of student voted R.O.N. The highest turnout of the election fell to the Welfare race (932 total votes), which saw Ruairí Power return a comfortable win against Rebecca O’Connor.
The whole election was very…odd? We’d never seen an election in UCD garner such low numbers and such little hype. It was everybody’s first time for something like this. Even the seasoned campaigners had to change tactics. As there is no quorum, turnout isn’t an issue – but what does it say about the SU and how few students seem to care? Any student paying attention could ramble on all day about engagement, but let’s move on: What will next year look like?
Next year will likely see a great deal more campaigning than we’re used to. With 4/5 Officer Elects being seasoned activists – we’re in for a vocal and exciting year. Conor Anderson, who will take over from current President Joanna Siewierska in June, has vowed to continue to protest the “commercialisation” of the university. Welfare Officer Elect Ruairí Power has promised to campaign for increased government funding for UCD’s strained health services. Education Officer Elect Hannah Bryson will likely beeline for a university-wide improvement of treatment for students with disabilities. Campaigns & Engagement Officer Elect Leighton Gray formerly led UCD For Choice and will likely encourage the SU to implement mandatory training and campaign around transgender issues. Entertainments Officer Elect Sarah Michalek will pick up the mantle from seasoned social-guru Thomas Monaghan. She will face the tough task of fulfilling her role amongst a range of government restrictions this summer. President-Elect Anderson has hinted that a candidate has come forward to replace him as Graduate Officer. The Returning Office has indicated that a by-election will be called in the coming weeks.
The SU election hype (if there ever really was much to start with) comes to a close on the eve of exam season for UCD. Another year will soon begin for another SU Executive team. A new face for students, a new bunch of hacks at coffee mornings and a new set of Officers to nag into leaking us information. It’s all very exciting, I know. Don’t you worry. The College Tribune will be here, ready to catch these fuckers out.
Conor Capplis – Editor