This year’s UCD Students’ Union Elections begin tomorrow morning. This will be the first time that the organisation has gone online, with the Returning Office scrambling to set things in order amid the COVID-19 health crisis. The unfortunate timing of exams has planted the Union’s most important event of the year, bang smack in the middle of revision week.
University students are scrambling to prepare for their online assessments and assignment deadlines and voting for some college hacks to get into office probably isn’t very high on their agenda. The Returning Officer has revealed that the number of students registered to vote is just 1,262. With over 30,000 students registered to UCD, this figure is staggeringly low.
To put this into perspective, last year there were over 4,000 total votes. 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 comes before the most unusual and stressful set of exams – probably ever.
Previously, the Returning Office indicated that there would be sponsored social media posts paid by the Union for each candidate. The idea was to get the word out there as much as possible and try to subsidise for the lack of physical campaigning that UCD students get to know and loathe each year. With voting beginning tomorrow, and registration now closed, it looks like the Union have been forced to abandon that idea. Staff in the SU shops continue to be paid, but the Union suffer without any substantial income on-campus. As with any other business in Ireland at the minute, things are probably be financially tight with the Union, and it looks like their decision to not pay for online advertising has been devastating to voter registration numbers.
Although a Union Election does not need to meet a quorum, unlike their referenda, the disastrously low turnout brings the danger of presenting a legitimacy crisis for those elected. They will have the support of the relevant institutions, such as the University and the Union, but can they claim the legitimate support of the students? Following a year of radical action by the Union, one might expect that more would pay attention to the Union’s “annual popularity contest” as former Tribune Editor Aaron Bowman puts it. But alas, it seems that those elected will be overshadowed by the reality that most students did not elect them.
On May 1st, when the election results are announced, we will see just how many students have voted. If there was ever an argument that as a result of the thousands of students engaged with the recent No-Detriment campaign, the Union had regained a sense of popularity, the low voter registration figure has blown that out of the water.
Most, if not all, candidates will be elected on less than 1,000 votes, which presents the issue of whether they are the legitimate leaders elected by the students of UCD. Sure, they will technically be our seat on the table, but will they be able to stand up and say that the students elected them?
Credit should be given to the Returning Officer for holding the elections during these uncertain times, and how he has persevered to hold the most watched Union event of the year. Although it should be considered a success that these elections are going ahead, despite all that’s going on, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that most students aren’t even watching.
Conor Capplis – Editor