SU to approve RON campaign teams in new election plans

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Durham Students’ Union has introduced changes to how Re-Open Nominations (RON) will function during campaigning for the upcoming SU elections, in response to calls for a “clearer” system after last year’s election.

In a statement on the SU website which was circulated by SU President in an email this afternoon, a list of issues with the current system were presented alongside proposed changes.

The plans include changes to the way students can campaign for RON. Individual students would be able to register as the official head of a verified RON Campaign, meaning RON would become a recognised candidate, operating under all the same rules and regulations as any other candidate. RON would also be open to sanctions if the Returning Officer deems it in breach of election rules. SU Assembly will not get a vote on these changes. 

An SU-wide RON campaign which covers all candidates running in the election like the one seen last year would not be possible under the new rules.

The official RON campaign would have to “appropriately seek to influence an election” and “focus on the merits of the manifestos of individual candidates”. RON also has to be specific to an individual election, so an SU-wide RON campaign which covers all candidates running in the election like the one seen last year would not be possible under the new rules.

This redefinition of RON means that secondary votes cast under the single transferable vote (STV) system will be properly allocated to the correct candidates. The SU were unable to do this last year due to technological limitations after their decision to disqualify the unofficial RON campaign for rules violations, meaning second and third preferences for the 58% of Durham who voted RON were deleted completely.

However, during the election process, concerns were raised about the treatment of some candidates on social media. This prompted several representatives from a campaign supporting RON to sign a letter apologising “to everyone that has been made to feel unsafe and received abuse” as a result of the campaign.

Since then, the SU has carried out a Democracy Review in a contract with private consultancy firm MiraGold, which found that the students most dissatisfied with the SU are opposed to “protecting minority voices and creating spaces in which they thrive”. The statement stresses that “the changes to our 2021 elections are not the result of the Democracy Review research”. 

The SU plans to officially start campaigning on 15th February, though it does not restrict candidates from promoting their campaign before this date.

Other changes include the end of all face-to-face campaigning to bring the upcoming Durham SU elections in line with national public health regulations, advising candidates to rely on “social media platforms and online communities”.

Durham SU has also proposed dedicated welfare drop-in sessions for candidates, the potential for a secondary campaign period if positions are not filled, and the decision to run all elections on SU software rather than the third party Devote system.

These changes will be followed by a Q&A open to all students, the date of which has not been set.

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