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USU money brings the candidates to the yard

Efforts are being made to ensure the bumper crop of USU candidates do not break spending regulations

The University of Sydney Union (USU) is confident that its $500 grant for candidates in this year’s Board election will not be abused. The USU introduced the grant this year to encourage a broader range of candidates to run in the election. Candidates can apply to have $500 of the $700 they are allowed to spend on campaigning provided by the Union.

As we report in UniGate this week, sixteen candidates have nominated for the 2013 election. This is in stark contrast to the seven who ran last year, five of whom were ultimately elected.

USU President Astha Rajvanshi told Honi Soit that the Union had identified “two barriers” to running for Board, following the disappointingly low candidature last year. “The first was the money issue, and the second was the time issue,” Ms Rajvanshi said.

The raft of nominations this year suggests – at least anecdotally – that the financial barrier to running has been reduced. Nonetheless, Rajvanshi acknowledged that the grant was unlikely to significantly improve access to the election for students studying time-intensive degrees. “From what I can see, predominately [the candidates are] people who were already interested in running.”

When the USU announced that it intended to go ahead with the grant scheme for this year’s election, concerns were raised that the grant might lead to ‘joke candidates’ running for Board, or, perhaps more sinisterly, feeder candidates directing their $500 towards campaigning for a main candidate.

The issue of electoral corruption and fraud is not new to Union elections. In 2010, a number of candidates, including 2011 President Sibella Matthews, were sanctioned for exceeding the spending cap. Board Directors Alistair Stephenson and Ben Tang were then ejected from the Board by the University Senate due to misconduct in the same election.

But the USU maintains that the terms and conditions of the contract that candidates must sign to receive the grant, in tandem with USU electoral regulations, will prevent any misuse of the funds.

Notwithstanding, there is no explicit stipulation in the electoral regulations that, for example, a candidate cannot display the name of another candidate on election material.

Ms Rajvanshi stated that in such an instance, “the returning officer has the power to make a ruling”. What exactly this will entail in practical terms remains to be seen.

The campaign period for the election begins on May 6, and polling will be held on May 22.