Elections 2021 – what’s changed and what you need to know

In a year like no other, we’re preparing to run our annual election period, enabling students to have their say on who should lead their SU to a new post-covid ‘normal’, as well as who should represent Durham at NUS National Conference and who should be our next Student Trustees. Please take a look at our elections hub to find out more about the roles available.

As with everything in the world at the moment, our elections will look slightly different this year. Students are predominantly living away from Durham and studying remotely, there are almost no social spaces open for campaigning in person and the safety of our students is more important than ever before. In addition to these unusual circumstances, there were a number of operational issues brought to light during our 2020 election period. In response, we asked the University to review the way our elections are conducted. The review made recommendations for improvements to certain processes, which we will, rightly, need to implement before this next set of elections. You may also be aware of our Democracy Review project that is also happening this year. For the avoidance of doubt, the changes to our 2021 elections are not the result of the Democracy Review research. The research will inform a larger overhaul of the entirety of our democratic structures, including elections, and the next stage of this project is being led by our Opportunities Officer over the next term.  

The implications of another national lockdown and the University’s review mean that certain processes will need to be applied differently this year, in line with our existing rules. We understand students will want to know what is different and why, so below is a summary of what we’ve been asked to change and what we’re proposing to do differently. To be clear, this is not elections guidance, but a proposal for what will look different in this year's elections due to the University's review and Covid-19. The Returning Officer will be creating elections guidance which is available and will be updated on our website here

Aspect of Elections Issue Proposed change

Campaigning

National public health regulations mean that we will not support face-to-face campaigning

Candidates should not campaign face-to-face across campus and at events as they have done in previous years. It is expected that candidates will campaign online through social media platforms and online communities. We have created guidance on online campaigning which can be found here. If, in the judgement of the Returning Officer, individuals are not behaving in a way that is consistent with this, it may be considered grounds for sanctions to be applied. The SU will promote candidate manifestos online via our social media and website.

Campaign period

There was some confusion last year over when candidates could begin campaigning

There is no official ‘start’ of campaigning in Durham SU’s elections guidance and once nominees have been verified as candidates, they can begin campaigning as soon as they would like. There is an official date that the SU will announce the start of the election period to students however, and we recommend candidates start their campaigns then to preserve energy (w/c 15th February for 2021 elections). You can also find our full campaigns guidance here.

Voting

There is no ability to hold in person voting stations around campus or in colleges

All voting this year will be done and promoted entirely online. There will be no voting stations run by staff or students across campus or in colleges.

Re-open nominations candidate

The University’s review asked us to be explicit as to what a vote for ‘re-open nominations’ means

If, for whatever reason, you do not think that any of the students standing for a position ought to be elected, then you can choose RON as a preference on the online ballot. A vote to ‘re-open nominations’ indicates that you do not wish to be represented by any of the other candidates standing. If RON wins, the role will stand vacant until another election is organised.

Campaigns for re-open nominations candidate

The University’s review asked us to be clearer about the way students can campaign for RON

A campaign for re-open nominations can use data/resource etc. in the same way as other candidates, and therefore students will expect us to ensure it is regulated the same. An individual student can apply to be the head of a campaign to re-open nominations in any election by emailing dsu.governance@durham.ac.uk

The Returning Officer will usually take the first applicant, who will then be subject to election regulations as a candidate. The Returning Officer has power to determine whether a campaign to re-open nominations is run appropriately using criteria including:

  • Run by a properly regulated campaigner
  • Specific to a particular election
  • Focussed on the merits of the manifestos of individual candidates
  • Appropriately seeking to influence an election
  • Consistent with Durham SU’s general guidance and regulations

This protects the right of students to vote to re-open nominations, and the right of candidates to run in a free and fair election. Compliance with the rules for those campaigning for re-open nominations will be treated the same as every other candidate’s campaign team.

Candidate welfare

No ability to have candidate welfare rooms

Due to the online nature of this year’s elections, in place of ‘candidate welfare rooms’ (space reserved for candidates campaigning to take a break in private), we’ll be making staff available for online dedicated candidate welfare drop in sessions throughout the election period. Please also see our Advice Service for useful resources available to support you.

Transferring votes in single transferable voting (STV) system

The University’s review asked us to ensure we were able to transfer votes in whichever voting system the elections are run on, in light of the software’s inability to do so in 2020’s election

In previous years, the option to vote ‘re-open nominations’ was added to each ballot automatically using a check box, as is also the case with other student leader elections across Durham. This meant that while our rules define RON as a candidate, no different to any other candidate, the software system treated them differently due to the way the ballots were created. An automated RON option on online ballots only allows for limited management of that candidate, but the same elections regulations apply to them as to all other candidates. This year, RON will be added manually to each election, meaning the management of them as a candidate will be no different to any of the other candidates, both within our regulations and within the system.

Voting system

The University’s review asked us to consider running our elections on Union run software, rather than through Devote

We have successfully run voting for student group and association elections for the past few years via our website provider, Union Cloud. This year, voting for Officer, Trustee and NUS Delegate elections will also be run via this platform, instead of via Devote.

Election period

The University’s review asked us to factor in a second election period

If any student leader positions remain vacant after February’s elections, we have planned capacity to run a second election period in Easter Term 2021.

In a year that has meant the majority of our normal ways of working have had to change, our elections are no exception. On top of this however, we’re also implementing the University’s recommended improvements following feedback from our last set of elections. We want to ensure students understand the way our elections will be running this year and, whilst the above are our proposed changes, we know that there will be some areas that are still unclear or that students disagree with.

We’d like to hear your thoughts on these proposed changes – so if you have any questions please post them below. We’ll be responding via a Q&A video, which will be hosted on this page, shared with Assembly, and made available to all students.