In a normal year, student union election season would position candidates and their campaigns loudly in front of the Boole Library, trying to capture student’s votes as they passed from one lecture to another. There is little of that experience which remains in 2021; outside Boole library remains quiet as campaigns have migrated to social media in line with COVID-19 health restrictions. This years’ UCCSU were elected to their roles on the same day that the country was to enter ‘lockdown’ on March 12th, their term served during the height of the pandemic. Universities around the country are in the process of electing their unions through social media as UCC looks on, preparing to do the same.
Nominations for candidates to run in the UCC Student Union elections are set to open on March 15th and close on March 19th, with Executive Representative Hustings to be held on March 23rd with Officer Hustings to follow a day later on March 24th. Online voting is to take place for all students from March 29th to 31st, where representatives will be elected on April 1st, 2021. There are thirteen positions to fill on the UCC Students’ Union in all, made up of six full-time officers, four college representatives and three campaign representatives.
As of yet, campaigning has not officially started as no one has formally been nominated to run. This changes on March 19th when nominations close and campaign manifestos are delivered digitally to email@example.com – another change to the process as a result of COVID-19.
The pandemic has transformed the conditions for campaigning, all of which must be done so off-campus and in-line with national health guidelines. UCCSU election season will follow that of multiple higher-education institutions across the country, with voting occurring online.
From March 29th to 31st, all students will vote in the SU elections through a voting portal unlocked using a valid student number and password. Students will be sent the voting link via email, and it’s up to students themselves to submit their votes before the deadline.
Concerns in relation to student engagement with SU elections have been raised now that both voting and campaigns have migrated online, with abounding worries that many students may miss the fact the elections are occurring altogether or others may just not see the purpose in voting. In last year’s UCCSU elections, the poll for SU President garnered 4,202 valid votes, around 20% of the overall student population of UCC. For those 4,202 students who voted, there were almost 17,000 who did not.
It is a concern shared by higher education institutions nationally and one compounded by the new-found online space. Of around 18,000 students at Trinity College Dublin in 2019, just 3,355 turned out to vote for their SU President – around 19%. It is feared that this digital environment will further deplete the numbers engaging in the student union elections and has prompted conversations about how it can be resolved.
Currently, UCCSU is hosting information nights and informal conversations with prospective candidates who may be considering running for an Executive or Officer position, alongside this the Union of Students in Ireland have launched their ‘Run Your SU 2021’ campaign, which seeks to empower and inform candidates on running on online campaign “and how to win.” Those who wish to run for a position on UCCSU will not be official candidates until March 19th, following the submission of their manifestos and 10 individual nominations and 5 individual nominations for full-time and part-time candidates respectively.