Is block voting undemocratic?

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Illustration by Marco Brunello
Illustration by Marco Brunello

With the leadership race upon us, it’s time to start thinking about who your votes will go to. Certain societies have been known to influence who their members collectively vote for. Debate asks, is block voting wrong?

 

 

 

 

 

YES: Natalie Oliver

Encouraging block voting manipulates the democracy upon which our Union is run… it’s nepotistic and self-interested

I’m all in favour of university societies encouraging students to vote in the upcoming leadership elections, but firmlydraw the line when it comes to backing certain candidates. In my mind, it’s akin to any organisation urging its supporters to vote for a particular party in a general election –I expect there would be rather a lot of peeved Arsenal fans if Arsene Wenger had encouraged the clubs supporters to vote Tory in 2010. Shared devotion to a club or society doesn’t necessarily mean that all members think, or indeed should vote, alike.

While it’s highly unlikely a bad candidate can win the leadership race through societies block voting, it will, inevitably, help determine a close election. Encouraging block voting manipulates the democracy upon which our Union is run. While societies may just be supporting their own members in their leadership bids, it’s still nepotistic and self-interested. The Activities Officer position could be particularly susceptible to this, as it’s in each society’s interest to assist the candidate they believe will be most helpful to them when needed. On a larger scale, the Labour Party’s leadership elections in 2010 can be seen as a prime example –until the final round, the only subgroup in which Ed Miliband was the favourite was that of the trade unions, as he was most likely to be of use to them. The lobbying power of university societies could have a similar effect in the leadership election, effectively unionising the voting process so that it represents a collective interest, rather than that of individuals. Block voting leads the more apathetic individuals in the student population to cast votes ithout really knowing what each candidate represents, potentially choosing personality over policy, and voting for ‘BNOC’ candidates.

That the society a leadership candidate is either a member of, or on the committee of said society, could also play a role in skewing the fairness of the voting system. Being part of a 300-strong organisation may make them no more qualified or able than someone in a society a fifth of the size. However, should fifty per cent of the membership vote with the recommended choice, it’s just basic maths that the candidate in the bigger club stands a better chance.

The leadership elections have a purpose, they’re the people who will have a say on Union finances, change how we’re educated and how issues in the community are addressed. Block voting can transform the election into a popularity contest, rather than a meritocratic contest. So, when you go to vote, and I hope you do, pick the candidate with the best track record. Find the manifesto pledging the changes you want to see. We all get a vote, so for democracy to truly work you should choose the best candidate for you, even if it’s not the one your society pushes for.

 

NO: Alice Smart

Rather than a good marketing campaign, candidates must show groups and committees that they are realistic and serious about what they have promised

Over the next few weeks you’re going to be pestered, bothered and harangued by candidates for the Union’s leadership race. They’ll use flashy videos, photo-shopped graphics, cheesy slogans; anything to get your attention. But not every student will feel involved in this process. Not everyone will think it means a great deal or changes anything for the better. But even if that were true, societies can play a key part in turning that perception on its head, and  olvingmanymore students in an election that really will affect them, one way or another.

Leeds University has set the UK record for the number of votes cast in a Students’ Union election for the last two years, and we’re going for a hat-trick by doing the same this time. Sheer numbers of votes cast in LUUelections negates the effects of block voting, as even a big society will have little effect overall. With nearly 12,000 students expected to vote, suddenly the race doesn’t look so closed.

It’s got tobe remembered that evenwhen your society endorses someone, there’s nothing compelling you to vote for that person. It’s a secret ballot with plenty of opportunities to make up your own mind. So what if your society has chosen to endorse a particular candidate? If they’re not promising anything that’ll help you, you can simply look elsewhere. A number of factors come in to play when choosing a candidate, and the fact that your society has endorsed one candidate over another is just one of those factors. Students are frequently alignedwithmore than one society, and so whether to vote according to the chat of bellydancers or the discussion of spanish speakers needn’t be a factor.

Society endorsement opens the door for a more meaningful conversation between candidates and active student groups on campus. No longer are candidates allowed to rely on a good marketing campaign to win an election, they must show groups and committees that they are realistic and serious about what they have promised. It also allows clubs and societies a perfect opportunity to get candidates to address the issues they haven’t outlined in their manifestos.

It’s also worth noting that society endorsements will raise the profile of the election, not just the candidates themselves. If we’re to make history and smash our own record once more, we need as many students involved in the process as possible. When all is said and done, the more votes, the bigger the huge mandate the winners will have to carry out their objectives.

But fulfilling promises is just as important, if not more so, than setting new records. If societies spend time endorsing someone for a particular promise or action plan then they’re far more likely to pull the winner up if they don’t deliver. This is crucial, because when it’s done properly, the leadership race crosses a line, moving away from just another set of gimmicks andcatchy songs towards a process which ensureswe get people whowill make the University, the city and the Union better for us. And clubs and societies, which between them have nearly 20,000 members here at Leeds, can onlyhelp deliver this by endorsing the people that they think will deliver.

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