Election rules

To ensure fairness when democratically electing student leaders, we have a set of election rules that govern our elections and what we expect of our candidates. These election rules are set out in our Standing Orders.

However, if we become aware of matters which are either not in the Returning Officer’s remit because they do not relate to the elections, or which the Returning Officer believes is serious enough to bring to the attention of another body, we may refer these matters to an appropriate other body. This could include Durham University, the Charity Commission, or the Durham SU Trustees.

To ensure Candidates are comfortable and understand the Election Rules, as per our Standing Orders C4, the Returning Officer publishes Election Guidance for each Election Term, these are presented to Assembly and available on our website.

It is important to remember that there are other elections regulations across campus because Durham has other student organisations who make their own decisions. Candidates and campaign teams should respect local rules, but non-compliance with local regulations does not constitute a breach of Durham SU’s election regulations.

You can find answers to some of our frequently asked elections queries here, or you can send any questions regarding the elections rules to dsu.governance@durham.ac.uk

Voting and counting votes

Any and all Durham students are entitled to vote, provided that they haven’t previously resigned their membership of Durham SU.

  • Voting will take place in the form of an online ballot by the single transferable vote method (STV). Information on STV may be found on DeVote, or you can watch this video by UWE SU.
  • Voting will be held over four successive dates opening at 08:00 on the first day of voting and closing at 17:00 on the fourth day.
  • The Returning Officer (this is an external person, who will oversee the elections to ensure they are fair) may restrict voting if necessary to ensure the security and integrity of the ballot.
  • The vote count will be conducted online by SU staff members.
  • The count will be conducted after the close of the voting period only after all complaints relating to the conduct of the candidates, their campaigns and / or the count are resolved.
  • The confirmed results of the cross-campus election will be published on the Union website once all candidates have been notified of the result.


We provide a campaigning budget to all candidates running in an election. This budget is £60 and candidates will be reimbursed for any reasonable expenses incurred during the election campaign period that do not exceed this amount.

Candidates must account for all expenditure spent in support of their campaign on the election expenses form provided to candidates after they nominate themselves.

This MUST be returned, along with any receipts, to dsu.governance@durham.ac.uk by close of ballot (17:00 on the final day of voting).

No candidate may incur expenditure beyond a maximum of £60. Candidates will be reimbursed for expenses up to £60, for which receipts must be provided.

A failure to properly account for campaign expenditure, including apparent expenditure over budget, may be subject to an investigation and subsequent disciplinary action.

Elections complaints procedure

Below is all the information regarding the election complaints procedure covering:

Any student can make a complaint by emailing dsu.governance@durham.ac.uk. Durham SU will not accept anonymous complaints, but will afford as much privacy as possible to any person who makes a complaint.

Complaints will be accepted on the basis that they:

  • Clearly relate to the Durham SU rules or guidance.
  • Includes evidence relevant to the complaint.

A complaint made with no clear relation to the rules or guidance or no evidence is unlikely to be accepted.

Complaints SHOULD be received before the close of ballot, as this will allow any appropriate sanction to be applied before the declaration of result.

If for whatever reason, the Deputy Returning Officer does not accept a complaint they may decide that the complaint matter should be referred elsewhere. This will most likely be to the Durham SU Statutory Complaints Procedure, or to Durham University. If this is the case, then the complainant will be advised of next steps.

What happens once a complaint is submitted?

The Deputy Returning Officer will consider whether there is a reasonable basis to open an investigation. If no reasonable basis exists, because the complaint does not clearly relate to the rules or guidance or does not include any relevant evidence, then a response will be provided outlining the reasons why the complaint has not been taken further. The Deputy Returning Officer may ask for further information, but is not required to do so.

If an investigation is opened, the Deputy Returning Officer may ask for a further conversation with the complainant to better understand the issue. There is no requirement to have a meeting with the complainant and the written complaint may be sufficient.

Any person or campaign which has a complaint made against them will have an opportunity to respond to the allegation before any decision is made.

The Deputy Returning Officer may require other relevant evidence before making a decision and may ask other candidates or campaign teams for information. All candidates and campaigns MUST support elections officials in the execution of their duties and MUST reply to questions from elections officials within 24 hours.

The Deputy Returning Officer will make a decision whether or not to uphold a complaint and will communicate the decision to the parties. Complaints will be dealt with as promptly as possible.

Right to appeal

Any candidate or campaign which has a sanction applied following an upheld complaint may ask the Returning Officer to review the decision if there are grounds for appeal.

Acceptable grounds for appeal are:

  • There is evidence of procedural irregularity.
  • New evidence is available which, in the RO’s judgement, means that a different complaint outcome is probable, or a different recommendation of effective remedy is appropriate.

If there are no grounds, then the Returning Officer reserves the right to not accept an appeal. For the avoidance of doubt, disagreement with a complaint being upheld or the application of a sanction is not a ground for appeal. The decision of the Returning Officer is final.

Deputy Returning Officer

The Deputy Returning Officer has the power to:

  • Uphold a complaint and determine that further advice or training is required.
  • Issue an official warning.
  • Withdraw a candidate from the election.

The Deputy Returning Officer will not apply sanctions which have unclear impact upon a candidate or campaign, such as an arbitrary reduction in the proportion of votes counted towards a candidate, or an arbitrary restriction in how a campaign may be conducted for a period of time.

To determine which sanction is appropriate, the Deputy Returning Officer will consider the extent of harm and the likelihood of harm to:

  • The security of the ballot and the integrity of the result.
  • The good reputation of students and Durham SU.
  • Students, staff, and election participants.

In general, the Deputy Returning Officer will seek to offer advice before giving a warning, and give a warning before withdrawing a candidate. There will of course be instances when it is more appropriate to issue a more serious sanction first.

Sanctions already imposed may be taken into account in further complaints.

The Deputy Returning Officer will not be able to consider intent or ignorance of the rules as relevant factors in a complaint investigation.

What happens if a candidate is withdrawn due to a complaint?

The Deputy Returning Officer will refer any decision to withdraw a candidate to the Returning Officer for immediate review, whether a withdrawn candidate requests an appeal or not. The candidate also has the opportunity to submit a statement and any appropriate evidence to the Returning Officer and MUST do so within 24 hours of the decision to withdraw being communicated to the candidate.

The appeal will be concluded before the withdrawal is actioned.

Complaints into overall elections management

A complaint into the confidence of how the elections have been managed should be sent to dsu.governance@durham.ac.uk within 28 days of the election result being declared.

The Durham SU Supervising Trustee’s role within the Durham SU Statutory Complaints procedure, as the independent person appointed by Durham University Council, is to investigate any of these specific complaints.

The Supervising Trustee will not re-investigate complaints overseen by the Returning Officer and is not a third chance to appeal a ruling by elections officials.