About our elections

Every year we hold many different elections. Find out the “Who”, “What”, “Whys” of the elections process, or take a deep dive into the intricate details.

What are Durham SU elections?

Durham SU is owned by students. This means that every year students come together and vote for your next student representatives and Trustees in campus-wide elections. Each elected role has a different purpose, but all are voted in by students.

You could even put yourself forward for one of the roles. If you think you’re the right person to represent student needs, speak for Durham students nationally or help keep the SU’s strategy in line, there’s a role for you.

Whether you nominate yourself for a role, or just vote for those you think will be best for each position, the elections are your chance to help chose who will represent and make decisions on behalf of Durham students.

When will the elections take place?

The main 2020-21 SU election period will run from 11 January (when nominations open) until 25 February (when voting closes) with time marked out in Easter Term if any further elections need to take place. It will include elections for the five Student Officers, four Student Trustees, and five NUS Delegates.

There isn’t an official start date when candidates can start campaigning (encouraging people to vote for them), but they won’t be officially confirmed as candidates until published by the SU. We’ll be doing this on or before week commencing 15 February 2021.

These dates have been selected so as not to clash with student exams or summatives, University or SU Board meetings. This gives student candidates the ability to dedicate appropriate time to the elections process. The dates also allow for an Assembly meeting during the elections period, meaning candidates can make themselves visible to other student representatives.

We’re confident these dates will help these elections run as smoothly as possible, despite the challenges of Covid-19.

What roles are being voted for?

Three different types of roles will be elected in this period.

Student Officers lead Durham SU. This is a full-time, salaried role, giving students the unique opportunity to lead an organisation straight after graduation. The students that are successfully elected will sit on various University committees, such as Council and Senate, and run campaigns to make the future better for students.

Student Trustees ensure that Durham SU is well governed. The Trustee position is a distinct role, which is different to a student representative or a student activist. A Trustee deliberates and decides with the rest of the Board about the best way to deliver Durham SU’s purpose. You may have heard that there was a proposal to appoint existing student leaders as Trustees in order to fill current gaps on the Board. After consulting with students, we have heard that this is not what students would like and so will be electing Student Trustees as in previous years.

NUS Delegates represent Durham students at a national level at the National Union of Students’ National Conference. Changes to the way NUS Conference works means we’re able to elect those candidates later than usual, at the same time as Officer and Trustees. This gives students considering running time to fully prepare for the election, something particularly important in a year in which much of our students’ time has been taken up by new ways of learning, living and experiencing wider student activity, due to Covid-19.

How do I nominate myself for a position?

We’re so excited that you are considering nominating yourself for a position! Each role has different responsibilities and eligibility criteria, but all nominations are open between 11 January and 17:00 on 25 January 2021. You can nominate yourself – you don’t need anyone else to put their name down too. All you need to do is fill out an online form.

Check out the pages for Student Officers, NUS Delegates, and Student Trustees to understand each role and decide if it’s for you.

How do I vote in the elections?

If you’re a student at Durham University, you can vote in the SU elections. The only thing stopping you is if you have previously resigned your membership of Durham SU.

You’ll be able to vote from 08:00 on 22 February to 17:00 on 25 February 2021. Voting takes place via an online ballot by the single transferrable voting method (STV). You can find out more about STV in this video here.


We know some students are particularly interested in the intricacies of our elections, so we’ve answered some further questions below. If you can’t find the answer you’re looking for, go to our elections rules page or our guidance page for candidates.

All of the below answers are based on the existing rules that will be used in the 2020-21 elections. We recognise there has been criticism about elements of the elections in the past, and we’re committed to working with students to address these as part of the Democracy Review – a complete overhaul of all Durham SU democracy. This means we need to stick with our current rules this year whilst the review is taking place, but that your views on our elections are been taken into account through your contributions to the review, and will be acted upon in future.

What is Officer and Trustee neutrality and why don’t we have it?

Officer and Trustee neutrality is the idea that current Student Officers and Trustees should not express a preference for any candidate in the SU elections. This could be an explicit endorsement of a candidate or simply supporting an idea that a particular candidate suggests in their election campaign. 

Last year at Assembly, students voted to add a rule that required Student Officers and Trustees to remain neutral during the elections period. Though the rule was approved by Assembly, the new rule contradicts the SU’s Articles of Association. This is because the Students’ Union Officers and Trustees are members of the Students’ Union, just like every student in Durham. Therefore, Officers and Trustees have the same right as all students to fully participate in elections by having a voice and a vote.

Durham SU supports freedom of speech on campus. We encourage student leaders to play full roles in democratic events and express support for candidates and policies. Durham SU doesn’t require its student leaders, such as Faculty Reps or Association Presidents or current Officers to stay silent during important elections where students are expected to debate things that matter to them. This is not consistent with our understanding of education law or the value we place on free speech.

Who is the Returning Officer and how are they chosen?

The Returning Officer makes sure student voters in SU elections can be sure that the elections are run fairly and that all rules are followed. The role is filled by someone outside of Durham and independent of the election candidates. The Returning Officer would also never be involved in the day-to-day running of the elections, allowing them to enforce the elections rules impartially. It’s also important that the Returning Officer has the professional experience to understand the ins and outs of an SU election and is able to challenge the SU, if anything comes into question.  

When the Durham SU Board of Trustees recommends a Returning Officer to Assembly (a body of student representatives), it’s up to Assembly to either accept or reject the recommendation. 

You can find our guidance on election rules from the Returning Officer here, and the election rules in our standing orders here.

What does a Deputy Returning Officer do and who are they?

The Deputy Returning Officer oversees the elections. They administer the ballot and make decisions regarding elections complaints. The Deputy Returning Officer makes the initial ruling on how any complaints are dealt with and then can request guidance from the Returning Officer if necessary. The Returning Officer’s decision is always final.  

The SU’s Standing Orders state that the Deputy Returning Officer should be the Chief Executive. This means students can be confident that the Deputy Returning Officer has a thorough understanding of Durham SU’s specific rules and is experienced in making these decisions.

How is my data used during the elections period?

Durham SU elections are fully subject to the students’ union’s existing policies for data protection, which you can find here. 

We’re aware, however, that in 2020-21, candidates are more likely to campaign online than ever due to Covid-19, and that means it’s even more important for us to assure you that your rights are protected. We will be providing training to all candidates on the appropriate use of data, and advising that their campaigns teams attend too.

At Durham SU, we take any improper use of data seriously. Any failure to account for the use of data may result in an investigation and subsequent disciplinary action.

Data held for the purposes of convening study groups or sports teams, for example, won’t be available for use in a Durham SU election. We will take complaints by any person who has had their data used in this way seriously and, if upheld, this would lead to a sanction being applied to the candidate.