A Ballotless By-Election

17 June 2019

Following the resignation of several Office Bearers within the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU), the Indigenous, Queer and Education Academic (EdAc) offices went to by-election from 6th-8th of May. However, with all nominated candidates running unopposed, the vacancies were filled without students being able to vote.

The by-election saw Elizabeth Tembo and Dominic Roque Ilagan assuming the roles of EdAc officers, with Ralph Canty joining Andie Moore in the Queer office. Jordan Holloway-Clarke and Laura Brown will fill the roles of Indigenous officers. These results were announced on the UMSU website.

During an interview in March, UMSU President Molly Willmott told Farrago that the by-elections would run similarly to the general elections held each year in September. “All students will be able to vote, but for the autonomous departments (Queer and Indigenous), only students from that group can vote for their representative,” she explained.

Willmott generally encouraged students to take part in the by-election. “[It’s] important that students get involved in our democratic process by participating and casting their vote,” she said.

According to a ‘Notice of Election’ released to the UMSU website on April 15 by Returning Officer Jaimie Adam, details of polling times and locations were to be posted for students after nominations of candidates were received.

However, no polling dates were ever released, and no students were able to fill out a ballot. This was due to the available Office Bearer positions being provisionally filled by unopposed candidates.

A contributing factor to the positions being provisionally filled, and therefore uncontested, was an election deal between student factions Stand Up! and More! on 19 February 2019. Farrago obtained a copy of the deal, in which the two factions agreed “not to run, campaign for, endorse, or support any candidate in a by- election for an office bearer position won by [the other] in the 2018 election”. The deal was signed by Willmott and Alice Smith on behalf of Stand Up! as well as Joshua Bruni and Alston Chu from More!. As a result of such deal, More! did not nominate candidates for the Stand Up!-held office of EdAc, in exchange for the latter not nominating candidates for the Queer office.

While Willmott declined to comment on the deal, More!’s convenor Bruni defended his decision to sign. “[The deal] did not prevent other students from running,” he said. “UMSU already struggles to maintain its relevance and credibility with students who question its legitimacy and financial decisions. This deal allowed the Student Union to spend money on endeavours that are important to ordinary students, instead of wasting time on petty partisan politicking [sic] and apparatchik flexing”.

While not holding a physical by-election may have saved financial resources, there are also those who feel that this detracted from the democratic process. Allen Xiao, a student at the University who is involved with More!, has mixed feelings about the deal. “As much as the student body dreads election week—I mean, what sane person doesn’t? —there’s at least some measure of democratic legitimacy there. So, if nothing else, surely our voice should be heard in an area as crucial as Education?”, he said.

“To those who care about the healthy functioning of the student union—a sadly dwindling number—these recent events are a cause for disappointment. While I have no doubt the new office bearers are perfectly competent, it’s concerning how lacking in transparency the entire process was.”

Although the faction deal was not solely responsible for positions being uncontested, the lack of competition impeded upon students’ ability to exercise their democratic right to vote in UMSU elections. It calls into question whether or not the results can still be considered a true reflection of students’ preferences.

It is also noteworthy that the number of resignations, and therefore the number of offices heading into by- election, was highly unprecedented, particularly so early in the year. However, Willmott told Farrago that she was not concerned by the resignations.

“This year has seen a few more resignations than previous terms of office, but the reasons officers have resigned is incredibly varied and personal so I don’t believe it is indicative of anything larger.”

Clarification: This article has been updated to disclose Allen Xiao’s involvement in More!.

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