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Affirmative Action Implemented in USU Election

All the results and analysis from this year’s Board election.

All the results and analysis from this year's Board election.

Polls for the USU Board Election closed yesterday, and with the dust settling six new Directors Elect are staring at a two-year stint overseeing the multimillion-dollar organisation. In the order of their election, they are Michael Rees (Independent), Jack Whitney (National Labor Students), Atia Rahim (Student Unity), Marco Avena (Grassroots), Tiffany Alexander (Independent), and Shannen Potter (Sydney Labor Students).

These results were announced after preferences were calculated, and required the implementation of the USU’s affirmative action (AA) policy. The policy—which necessitates that in a year where six candidates are elected, three must be wom*n identifying—was last implemented in 2009. Essentially, as each candidate is excluded from the count, their preferences flow on to the remaining candidates. However, if the next candidate to be eliminated is wom*n-identifying and their exclusion would mean that AA will not be fulfilled, the count instead eliminates the lowest polling non-wom*n-identifying candidate. Eventually, six candidates are provisionally elected. In this instance, the last candidate to be excluded was Georg Tamm. A more detailed explanation of the application can be found at the bottom of this story.

USU races are often decided narrowly at the margins, and this year was no exception. Lamisse Hamouda polled just 28 votes behind Potter by the time she was excluded from the count. Interestingly, had Hamouda received those votes and not been excluded, some 125 votes in preferences would not have flowed to her fellow Grassroots candidate Marco Avena, and he would have been excluded instead of Tamm. In this, there was no outcome in which both Grassroots candidates could have been elected; though the factional make-up of the board would have remained roughly similar.

The USU, having changed its voting incentives this year from a free drink voucher to a one dollar donation to Headspace, will likely be disappointed with the impact that decision appears to have had on voter turnout. Only 3919 votes were cast, which is the lowest turnout since 2009, the year before incentives were first introduced.

These elections have implications not just for future Board Directors but for current ones as well, especially with an executive election on the horizon where the USU’s presidency is up for grabs. Current Directors Liv Ronan (Independent) and Alisha Aitken-Radburn (Student Unity) intend to stand in that election, and will possibly be joined by a Grassroots backed Ed McMahon or Liam Carrigan. While many of the newly elected Directors were coy about their voting intentions, predictions based off open declarations of support, factional allegiances and preference deals are often made. Honi understands that the three new Labor Directors (Whitney, Rahim, Potter), will likely vote for Aitken-Radburn, while Independents Rees and Alexander could lend their support to Ronan, leaving Avena to back any would-be Grassroots candidate.

Of course it wouldn’t be an election without some degree of controversy, and this year current USU Vice President Bebe D’Souza was at the heart of it. D’Souza took to Facebook to speak to the importance of diversity and representation on the Board, and in doing so may have endorsed Hamouda, Rahim, and Jennifer Zin. In former years this conduct would have been allowed, but earlier this year the Board passed a motion restricting the rights of sitting Directors to campaign for or endorse candidates.

Whenever there is a potential breach of regulations committed by a sitting Board Director, the possibility of a censure motion being leveled against that Director arises. Despite rumours suggesting otherwise, USU President Tara Waniganayaka confirmed to Honi that there is currently no censure motion on notice for the next Board meeting. The agenda is set to be finalised at close of business, tomorrow.

How AA works in USU elections, courtesy of Tom Clement:

Essentially the AA rule changed from 2009 to 2010. 2009 was the last time that AA kicked in, and in that election the way they decided the winners was to run the election as usual, and then choose the 3 highest ranked non-wom*n identifying candidates and the 3 highest ranked wom*n identifying candidates. (This occurred because only two wom*n identifying candidates appeared in the top 6). This was a problem, because Melissa Brooks was ranked 10th, and during the counting she was “eliminated” and her preferences flowed to other candidates. She was duly elected through AA after the count had finished. Although the outcome would have been the same, this could have led to serious problems of double-voting which can skew the outcome. Therefore in 2010 they introduced a new method to implement AA (which hadn’t been employed until last night). Which was “if there are only 3 wom*n identifying candidates remaining in the count, and one of them is in last place, instead of eliminating them, eliminate the lowest polling non-wom*n identifying candidate instead” In the context of last night, when there were only 7 candidates remaining, and therefore one left to be eliminated, there were only three wom*n identifying candidates remaining, and they were in 3rd, 6th and 7th. So, instead of eliminating the wom*n identifying candidate in 7th, they were forced to eliminate the lowest polling non-wom*n identifying candidate, being Georg Tamm (who was at that point in 5th place). AA therefore only kicked in for Shannen Potter, as if she had been eliminated, there would only have been 6 candidates left and Tiff Alexander would have been elected regardless. The only difference in results (apart from the final order of election of the candidates, which was yet to be finalised as of last night) is that Georg Tamm was replaced by Shannen Potter. In order to decide the final order, Georg’s preferences will move to the remaining candidates. If this had happened in an earlier stage of counting (such as Melissa Brooks in 2009) then non-wom*n identifying candidates with greater votes than Mel would have begun to be eliminated, and their votes distributed (which is only fair!)


Honi has to thank Scott Brownless and Tom Clement for their assistance in interpreting the figures from last night’s results, and also clarify that any interpretation they offered was as private citizens and not as associates of the USU.