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Ballots and bad habits

John Gooding crunches the numbers and commiserates with Callum as USU elections draw to a close.

Photography: Judy Zhu.
Photograph by Judy Zhu.
Photograph by Judy Zhu.

The preliminary results for the University of Sydney Union Board elections have been released, with Liam Carrigan, Alisha Aitken-Radburn, Liv Ronan, Ed McMahon, and Kate Bullen making the cut. The three candidates who did not get up were Cameron Caccamo, Arghya Gupta and Callum Forbes.

There were 5339 votes cast this year, with quota (the number you have the beat to ensure you get elected) being 890. If a candidate beats quota in a USU election, their votes flow on proportionally to the second-most nominated candidate on their ballots.

Both Carrigan (Independent) and Aitken-Radburn (Unity) smashed quota, with 1236 and 1129 primary votes respectively. More of Carrigan’s second preferences went to Ronan (Independent) than to anyone else, despite Ronan not appearing on any of Liam’s how-to-votes (HTVs). Carrigan’s overflow was enough to push Ronan and McMahon (Grassroots) above quota, and left Bullen (NLS) a whisker away from quota at 866, and Caccamo (Independent) at 459. The second preferences from Aitken-Radburn then came into play. Aitken-Radburn’s voters were far better at sticking to HTVs than Carrigan’s with approximately 65 per cent of her excess votes going to Bullen, securing her the fifth and final position.

Returning Officer Miiko Kumar disqualified Forbes for acts including printing campaign material at a facility other than Officeworks, not authorising campaign material, and mass-emailing Wine Society members encouraging them to vote for him. According to Kumar, these actions collectively constituted seven regulatory breaches. As Forbes was disqualified after the election had begun, second preferences for other candidates on ballots he won became first preferences.

Forbes stated that he would be appealing the finding. Even if his appeal is successful the five elected candidates will remain the same, as Forbes would have placed outside the top five. “No response has yet been given by the Electoral Arbiter that I’ve received – though I often seem to be last person informed on matters involving my disqualification anyway,” he said.

“Though I am aware that much of the reputational damage inflicted is now irreversible, this appeal represents one of only few remaining avenues left to me,” he stated in his appeal.


Forbes’s appeal has been unsuccessful, with Electoral Arbiter and NSW Magistrate Daphne Kok upholding the disqualification based on “one significant count, and two less significant”.

The significant count Kok refers to is Forbes not printing his promotional coasters at Officeworks as regulations stipulate. Forbes argued in his appeal that the coasters should not be considered flyers, and thus he did not need to print them at Officeworks. “The advice I received from the Returning Officer before the campaign commenced made it clear to me that using drink coasters as promotional items, with a call to action for students to learn more about my campaign platform online, would be within bounds of the electoral regulations. This is evidently no longer her view,” Forbes said.

The two “less significant” counts are failure to authorise material, one count of which Kok described as a “relatively minor breach”. Kok’s ruling has set a precedent by dismissing the complaints concerning Forbes’s emails to members of the Wine Society, stating they were not “dishonest” or “likely to mislead or deceive”. If an electoral regulation is not added to explicitly ban this practice, expect to see a very full inbox come next year’s elections.