By Alex Leggatt
Student turnout for the recent Durham Student Union elections was only slightly higher than last year.
The elections, which took place from Monday 19th February 2018, 8:00 am, till Thursday 22nd February 2018, 5:00 pm, had a turnout of 3101 voters, or 16.58% of 18,707 total eligible voters.
This turnout is a slight increase from last year’s elections, where 3205 votes were cast out of a possible 21139, making the overall turnout 15.2%.
The elections had a turnout of 3101 voters, or 16.58% of 18,707 total eligible voters
Previous years have seen a much larger proportion of Durham students voting in SU elections. In 2011 and 2012, turnout was 29% and 30% respectively. In more recent years, turnout has remained around 16-18%, with a slight peak in 2017 (20.8% turnout).
There were confusions surrounding the exact proportion of voter turnout, with discrepancies between the DSU’s election announcement and the University’s Devote system. In a statement on their website, Durham Student Union explained that the different percentages were due to “inaccuracies in the University’s data (additional student types, students who haven’t been expired etc.)”
Current SU President, George Walker, told Palatinate: “The turn-out of 17% in our elections is around the national average for Students’ Unions, but this is clearly not where we would like to be and our 2018-2022 strategy sets out an ambition of raising turnout to at least 25% of student members.
“Whilst turnout is one measure of engagement, we also value having candidates standing on relevant and well-informed manifestos, holding quality conversations with students about how they want to shape the future of Durham University.
“I’m pleased that due to the hard work of all the candidates who stood and our staff team who helped to ensure the smooth running of the elections, we were able to help many students engage in important debates about the issues that affect their student experience.
“The turnout of 17% in our elections is around the national average for Students’ Unions”
George Walker, SU President
“During the rest of my term I’m keen to work with student leaders across Durham to think about how we can boost engagement with our student organisations, by making better use of more innovative and accessible forms of e-democracy and supporting conversations across campus about how we respond as a student body to the major challenges facing both Durham and the Higher Education sector.”
The election also featured a referendum on changes to the DSU’s Articles of Association, which sought the “removal of unnecessary gendered language”, to introduce “the Chair of DUCK to our Board of Trustees” and remove the requirement for an automatic referendum in future amendments to the Articles.
2221 people voted in this referendum with only 990 voting ‘yes’ (44.5%), meaning that there were not enough votes in favour for the referendum to pass. The DSU announced on its website: “There has been no call from the Board of Trustees, Assembly or a student petition to hold a further referendum on this at this time.”
There were not enough ‘yes’ votes for the referendum on changes to the DSU’s Articles of Association to pass
Kate McIntosh, DSU president-elect, told Palatinate: “I expected turnout to fall significantly from last year but instead, despite there only being one candidate for President, only about 100 votes fewer were cast. That’s testament to the hard work put in by all candidates across the week.
“Turnout in these elections was bang on the national average of 17%. But engagement in elections within Common Rooms and the SU has been falling, and we face some big challenges going forward to make sure our democracy is as transparent and accessible as possible.”
During this year’s DSU elections, there were campaigns to increase voter turnout. Speaking to Palatinate, Nat Kunin, Trevelyan College SU Rep and Chair of the SU Rep Committee said: “The SU’s main approach was to encourage and support college voting stations as well as encourage voters on the science site and in the Students’ Union.
“Uncontested elections mean fewer people feel the need to vote”
Nat Kunin, Trevelyan College SU Rep and Chair of the SU Rep Committee
“They provided information booklets about the candidates and offered small prizes for voting. As well as that, there was obviously the competition involving the al-paca visit to the college with the highest turnout.
“I think this year it didn’t help that there was only one presidential candidate. Uncontested elections mean fewer people feel the need to vote.“In general, I think low turnout is because people’s lives are more often than not centred around colleges – if they’re not going to get involved in JCR elections then they’re even less likely to get involved in SU ones.”