Originally published in Volume V, Issue 3 on 28th October by Edward Melvin.
The Students’ Union came under severe criticism last week, as a number of polling errors and complaints regarding the advertising of the elections to Union Council called into question the validity of the vote. A number of serious blunders occurred during the course of the election process. Additionally, there were complaints received by the Union regarding the advertising of the election. There was also a low turnout for the elections and an increase in the number of unconcerned constituencies.
SU Councillors are nominated from roughly 70 constituencies in UCD. Every student has a vote and the right to be nominated in their respective constituency. This year, 33 of the constituency elections. Were uncontested due to a lack of nominated candidates.
In the election for a representative from 2nd Social Science, a recount had to be conducted after the wrong candidate was deemed to have been victorious. Ms. Orla Dennehy was deemed to have won the election on Friday by 18 votes to 2. It subsequently emerged that Mr. Michael Carrigy was the actual victor. The mistake was only discovered the next Monday when Mr. Carrigy approached the officials to query the result, having been surprised by his low poll. He was then informed that there had been a ‘clerical error’ and the actual result was reversed.
This is the second time Ms. Dennehy has received incorrect information from the Students’ Union during this academic year, having been incorrectly informed by Education Officer Charlie McConalogue that she had failed her repeat exams last month, as reported in the first issue of the University Observer.
Natasha Malone, Returning Officer for the Student’s Union, stated that the election mix-up “was a clerical error made wrong by the counters. The wrong names were given out.” When asked why the recount two place two days after the original count, she replied, “recounts are sometimes allowed months afterwards.” Assistant Returning Officer Niall Buckley stated that “there was a breakdown in communication – the results were the same, they were misreported initially.” Neither officer would admit responsibility for the error, yet they refused to apportion the blame in any direction. This stance was echoed by SU President, John Nisbet, who described the incident simply as a “missed call.”
In a separate incident, the election for a representative from 2nd Arts, Group E, contested by Mr. Cian O’Callaghan and Ms. Deirdre Spillane, was delayed several hours due to the fact that it had been completely forgotten and ballot papers were never printed for it. The error was discovered only when a student from this constituency attempted to vote for himself, only to find that his constituency had been forgotten entirely. According to Ms. Malone, this blunder managed to “pass through a number of cross checks.” The exact number of “cross checks” performed is unknown.
The polls for this election were thus only open at 1pm after ballot papers had been printed up from a computer printer on campus. Assistant Returning Officer Niall Buckley did not deny that this was a serious error, but insisted that it was his belief that the late start “did not cause any distortion due to the comfortable margin of victory.” John Nisbet admitted that “it was unfortunate that these errors occurred,” but chose to refer to the incident as a “minor hiccup” rather than mismanagement of the election. Ms. Malone asserted that the officers presiding over the election were not responsible. Mr. Buckley disagreed, stating that Ms.Malone and he “must be held accountable in terms of bearing overall responsibility for the error.”
In a third episode, there was some disappointment at the fact that not a single vote was cast from the Carysfort residences. It appears that this residence was the last to receive a polling station. Ms. Malone denied rumours that there was in fact no polling station in place, stating that: “I had a moment of fear that there was no station in Carysfort, but then I remembered there was one there.” One polling booth is normally afforded to each residence. Though recent years have seen a continuous downturn in the numbers of students voting, it remains highly unusual for a polling station not to receive a single vote.
The Union were also criticised from some quarters for the low profile given to the election, which many suggested would have contributed to the low turnout and lack of interest displayed by the student body. John Nisbet refuted such suggestions, stating that “the council elections were advertised on the SU’s ‘get involved’ posters as well as in The University Observer, and were announced at the first council meeting.”
Ms. Malone, who earns approximately £300 per election in her position as SU Returning Officer, maintained that “it was the Union’s job, I wasn’t highly involved in that aspect. I’m required to put up a notice on the Students’ Union noticeboard – we do our level best though, to put up notices on the official notice-boards.” It remains to be seen whether any of the candidates involved in these various incidents will apply to the Independent Appeals Board as a result of the election mismanagement.