Timothy Potenz examines the effect those-campaigners-that-follow-you-around-on-election-day have on the legitimacy of the Student Union elections.
In the run up to this Student Union election we can expect the typical plethora of election campaign strategies. As usual, sale meetings, check lecture announcements, posters and fliers will be hard to miss as we gear up to Election Day. These are all effective campaign techniques in their own right. They grab your attention, they inform and they instill a competitive atmosphere. Most importantly, it’s easy for you to walk away from them if you so choose.
However, election candidates have another trick up their sleeves that is particularly hard to miss: their canvassers. These platoons of t-shirt clad campaigners – described by one student as “unstoppable and relentless” – will be everywhere on both polling days.
For readers who are unfamiliar with the events of Election Day, here is a brief description: the polling stations will be located in places students simply have to walk past during their day. These polling stations will be surrounded by roughly 10 – 20 members of different campaign teams. They will be armed with t-shirts, stockpiles of fliers, and determination.
What do these people do? Brian Gearty describes a typical encounter: “They approach you, try to get you to vote for their candidate and follow you until you leave the area. It’s not pleasant.” “It’s actually really annoying,” says Arts student Sarah Connolly. “They just don’t leave you alone.”
There is actually a way to make these people go away. All you have to do is vote. Then you get a sticker saying you have voted. Anyone wearing this sticker gets left alone by the campaigners.
“I just voted for whatever candidate the first person who approaches me wants me to vote for,” says 2nd year Arts student John Finlay. “Once I get the sticker I’m happy.” 3rd year Maireen O’Sullivan has a similar sentiment:“I vote for the sticker. The last two years I don’t think I even paid attention to who I was voting for. I just put down random names, got the sticker and left.”
Consider what this actually means for the student union elections: if X votes just to get rid of the campaigners, this would mean that a vote has now been cast by someone who is uninterested in the election and did not get informed in the run-up to it. “I’m not entirely sure it’s that big a deal if I just vote for whoever,” continues Maireen. “I doubt many people act the way I do. I just really can’t stand those campaigners.”
The idea that a great many students cast completely uninformed or random votes to get away from canvassers is indeed difficult to put any weight to. However the question must be asked: if uninformed, uninterested students vote just to get rid of campaigners, do these canvassers actually reduce the legitimacy of the votes cast, of the mandate given to the candidates, and of the election as a whole?
This is a tough question to answer, but an important one to consider. For any reader who does not feel inclined to assess each of the eleven candidates in the coming week, but who will undoubtedly encounter canvassers on February 29 and March 1, here are a few options.
A – They do lower the legitimacy of the election. I will ignore the campaigners on the day.
B – They do not lower the legitimacy of the election. I will not ignore the campaigners on the day.
C- They do lower the legitimacy of the election, but I really want to be left alone. I will draw a smiley face on the ballot paper, cast it, get the sticker and walk on.