The Union’s standing committee has recommended a private business motion proposed by President Mayank Banerjee to fundamentally overhaul elections. The motion allows open campaigning, the formation of slates and the introduction of Re-Open Nominations as an option on the ballot papers, in a series of wide ranging reforms to it’s termly elections, the OxStu can report.
Before the motion can become part of the Union’s rules it must be brought before the chamber, which Banerjee plans to do next Thursday at 5pm. It will be ratified by acclamation unless 15 or more members object to the result. In this case the house will be divided and the chamber will “vote with their feet” in the same manner as for the Union’s weekly debates. If the proposals pass, the new rules will be in effect for this term’s elections in 7th week.
The proposed changes would allow candidates openly to canvass for election both physically and online, although there will be several exceptions to this. These exceptions include the spending of money on promotional materials, paid-for advertising and the production of videos to be used in campaigning.
These rules would allow candidates to form slates, or teams of candidates, although they will not be allowed to claim the endorsement of any University society or political, national, racial or religious group.
While Rule 33 of the Union’s constitution currently prohibits running on slates, or the discussion of one’s candidacy and the solicitation of votes beyond “close personal friends”, it is considered an open secret in the Union that these rules are frequently disregarded by candidates. A senior union official admitted that the rules as they currently stand “are considered something of a farce”.
The Union also intends to introduce a ballot system for high-profile speaker events after the long queues that formed last night in anticipation of the visit of Sir Ian McKellen. Some members were queuing from 3.30pm for an 8pm talk. On the facebook event for Stephen Fry, it has been announced that “this should ensure that members who cannot afford to queue for hours have a fair shot of getting into the event, whilst also allowing those members who may have a particularly strong desire to see a speaker the opportunity to see them, even if they are unsuccessful in the ballot”.
These changes come as part of a wide ranging attempt to reform the way the Union is run They follow the introduction of a means of impeaching the President and other senior officers, as well as a rule requiring automatic suspension from office following an arrest.
Union President Mayank Banerjee explained the reasons for the introduction of these changes: “People often complain about how Union elections are run, and these changes are designed to make them as open and fair as possible. Alongside some of the other changes that have already passed this term, we hope that they will go some way to addressing members’ concerns about the Union.”
Banerjee added: “I encourage all members to suggest any amendments to the electoral changes over the coming week, and to attend the meeting to pass them taking place at 5pm on Thursday of 5th Week.”
Another senior Union official elaborated the reasons for the changes: “The nature of the society has changed and the rules as they stand are outdated for our current purpose. It was the 1970s when the Union outlawed slates, then known as electoral pacts, as well as public ‘hacking’. It was 1998 when the Union outlawed electronic campaigning in any form.
“The original idea was we are a debating society; what should sway you is someone’s rhetorical strength in the chamber, not your personal popularity, and certainly not your association with someone else’s popularity. However this is no longer how it works in practice. It is also the case that the collegiate system at Oxford will mean that running on slates is extremely advantageous.”
Union officials also confirmed that they considered, but then rejected, a mooted idea to introduce online voting similar to the one used by the Cambridge Union Society. “There were two reasons for this,” an official explained. The first is that it would be a logistical nightmare; it will be extremely difficult to create a voting system that is secure enough, and because people buy membership for life, there are potentially 184,000 votes that could be cast. We would not be able to create a system that could cope with this.
“The second is that the skills required for successful electioneering under the current system are actually similar to those required when inviting speakers. If you can’t convince someone you know from College to come down and take ten minutes to vote for you, you will not be able to convince an agent in Los Angeles you have never spoken to give you Morgan Freeman’s time.”
Last term several candidates, including a candidate for President, were convicted of electoral malpractice and disqualified from the election including for soliciting votes via electronic means following a tribunal. These actions would now become permissible under the proposed changes.