In a by-election held last Thursday, April 11th, MA student Dylan Gray was elected as UCD Students’ Union Graduate Education Officer. The total valid poll was just 68, with Gray receiving 62% of the votes cast. The Graduate Education Office was established in the new Students’ Union Constitution passed last year.
While only final year and postgraduate students were eligible to vote in this election, with over 10,000 students falling into these categories, the total poll amounts to less that 1% of the available votes. Speaking on the turnout for the election, UCDSU President Rachel Breslin stated that it was “really really low, unacceptably low… There’s no doubt that the turnout was unacceptable, but whether it was unavoidable when you start a completely new position, particularly a Graduate Officer when graduates are a group that everyone knows have a very low engagement with the Students’ Union … I suppose why would you vote for something you haven’t thus far seen any benefit from? So it might be a chicken before the egg scenario.”
Graduate Education Officer-elect Dylan Gray places the blame for the low turnout largely on the number of sabbatical and society elections held in recent months: “There have been so many elections this semester, there’s been massive USI and constitutional referendums, there was Sabbatical and Convener elections, L&H elections and the LawSoc elections and I think there might have been one other as well.”
Gray also cites confusion over the way the by-election was held for the lack of votes. “Normally a sabbat election would be run over two days, and on the second day all faculties would be able to vote in Arts, so I had quite a few people calling in to me saying they didn’t have time to vote today but would vote tomorrow. There were quite a few people in Ag who tried to vote in Arts and were told they couldn’t, but then they didn’t want to go all the way back to the student centre to vote … stuff like that all added up together.”
Paddy Guiney, UCDSU Campaigns and Communications Officer, who was in charge of the ‘Get Out and Vote’ campaign for this election feels the turnout reflects the lack of interest in the SU expressed by older students: “This turnout probably says it the most, with sabbatical elections, 60% of voter turnout is via first years, 20-30% is second years and the final 10% is from 3rd year, final year and postgrad students.”
Guiney concluded: “Turnout was so abysmal because it’s a new position, students don’t know what the position will entail so the mandate will be completely unknown to them, so the candidate Dylan has a lot to prove to justify that.”
With interest so low, it seems the future of the office is unclear, with Breslin stating that “if that turnout continues then the position needs to change and we need to look at a different structure for graduate representation, no doubt about it.”