Testing the turnout of the YUSU Elections

Across both campuses a few posters and cut outs are morosely just about visible in the lake. As a Sports candidate once sagely said ‘the winners have won, the losers have lost’. So ends the YUSU elections for another year.

Turnout was down on last year. After a mighty initial surge, voting numbers tailed off after the first day. Many of this years Sabb candidates were well “networked”, plugged into parts of student life, and able to mobilise their core vote. Outside of their colleges, sports clubs or seminar circuits they failed to set the student body on fire. Coupled with a Presidential election being a pale shadow of last years: the question being more how big the scales would be to weight the winners ballot papers, rather than who would win. A race unenlivened, even, by the presence of a clash of visions for what YUSU should look like. Inspired a slogan as it was Tom Banks was not the only candidate campaigning for ‘moderate changes, to make your life moderately more pleasant’. With a couple of honourable exemptions all candidates were. Clearly most of those who voted made up their minds a long time before voting went live.

The relatively high number of ballots cast across all positions sends out quite a message as does RON’s strong showing. It’s clear that, in 2012/13, awareness of the existence of YUSU has been heightened, but that as a collective, the student body hasn’t necessarily liked what they have seen. Hence why nominations where down 40% on last year, hence why so many students felt they should vote, but when confronted with the ballot paper pumped for RON, hence why the election in terms of campaigning and the ties between individual candidates, looked more like the internal elections of a society, than a poll to decide as YUSU’s fuzzy elections advertising put it ‘who gets to lead a representative charity with a budget of over £1million’.

Cumulatively this is strange, strange and thrice strange. Never before in my university career has discussion about the role of YUSU and wider movement on campus, off campus and in delivering for members been higher. At York the mushrooming of exciting publications like Free Lunch, extensive discussion via these pages and the pages of Vision and The Yorker. Increasing talk in political circles about how YUSU can be used to fight battles over drugs, objectification and housing, to name but 3, suggests a strong appetite for inspiring student unionism. On campuses nationwide, growing criticism from students of their unions be it The Tab on the right, or the NCAFC on the left suggests a national trend.

These elections highlight the gap between the reality of our Union and the wants and desires of students. Its almost as if the system has been rigged. But who would benefit from that? Win, lose, draw as we move into the next year, engage with our new officers, they’re our delegates. Help to shape them in the image of the student body and show them that they both can and should, soggy cardboard aside, demand the impossible.


  1. 4 Mar ’13 at 2:20 pm

    Dan Whitmore

    Hi Josh,
    I’d just like to point out that this year the total number of ballots cast was higher than last year, even if the number of individual voters was down.
    I would also like to point out that, while turnout was not as high as last years (which broke all the records) it was still significantly higher than previous years!
    Also worth noting is that every year, almost 50% of voters will vote on the first day of voting being open, because they have already made their mind up on who they wish to support. Not because candidates were well “networked” but because campaigning had already been going on for a week!
    My final point is this: you say that outside of a core college, set of societies or sports clubs most people didn’t bother voting. However, if you look at the results for the position of Academic Officer, despite there only being candidates from three colleges (Vanbrugh, Langwith and Goodrick) turnout was fairly level across the other colleges and was, on the whole, rather good.
    I would question why you think that this is a “core vote” when it was, in fact, quite spread out not only across colleges, but across departments.
    Aside from this, I do agree that students should engage with the new officers. They are, after all, only representatives.

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  2. Hello Dan,

    Firstly thank you for taking the time to engage with my article, I really appreciate it. I also congratulate you on your victory, something I sadly wasn’t able to do the other evening. I really hope that you enjoy your year as a Sab and I’m sure you’ll do great things for York students.

    With regards the points you raise, however. Whilst you are correct to state that the turnout this year was high by historic standards, it is also true that student numbers at York are the highest they have ever been. Compared to 2008 or 2009 we now have 2 or 3,000 more members of YUSU. So by historic standards we are about where we were. i.e. a Union with high engagement at elections, but about average (i.e. a turnout in the low 30s) for a Union which engages its members at election time.

    The fact that YUSU claims around 15,000 members for calculating election turnouts, as opposed to the actual Union membership, including foundation students etc., which numbers almost 17,500, we’ll pass over in this instance.

    Likewise, you are right to state that the number of ballots increased this year, after all it did! However, I think I dealt with this point in my article. Pretty much every position saw an increase in RON ballots by up to 50% on the preceding year. Suggesting that people saw the virtue of voting, but not the virtue of voting for the candidates on offer.

    You cite the example of the Academic Officer, which of course you have personal experience of. However, as far as I can remember (YUSU, thus far haven’t released the figures so I can’t check) average turnout for the Sabb positions didn’t increase at all this year. Indeed positions likes Student Activities or Academic saw increases of only 2-300 ballots on last year, despite the fact they were far more heavily contested. Whilst posts like President saw a fall of 6-700 ballots, with York Sport President seeing at most a modest rise and Welfare seeing essentially no change.

    As such I think I am justified in saying that the far higher number of RON votes across all positions, especially PT Officers and Non-Officer posts, are the real reason for the increased number of ballots cast. Thus explaining why I stated that a great many students agreed, as they did last year, that YUSU was something worth having a say about, but that the options presented them didn’t encourage them to vote for a candidate, merely to despair and vote RON.

    If you can change this during your year in office, that’s great. I wish you all the best and I will doubtless continue to contribute during my time as a student.


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