A raft of recommendations for changes to the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) electoral regulations are set to be discussed at the next council meeting on Wednesday, March 8.
These recommendations, drafted by co-General Secretaries Isabella Pytka and Daniel Ergas, and general executive member Samuel Chu, seek “to make the SRC elections less stressful and fairer for all involved,” according to Pytka. But what would they really mean for students?
Making elections more accessible
Perhaps the biggest change recommended by Pytka, Ergas and Chu is reducing the current 12-day campaigning period. Instead, they propose online campaigning for eight days and in-person campaigning for five days before voting, which Ergas argues would “[ensure] students don’t need … an Arts student’s timetable to compete”. The current duration of the campaigning period means many candidates take significant time off work and study to run. Similarly, Chu argues “the campaigning period is too long and arduous,” which threatens students’ and campaigners’ welfare. The University of Sydney Union (USU) recently decided to reduce the campaign period for its Board elections for similar reasons.
The recommendations also suggest a reduced cap on campaign expenditure for SRC and presidential elections. Currently, campaigns can spend $1000 on a presidential candidate and $100 per SRC candidate to a maximum of $600 per ticket. This would be reduced to $500 per presidential candidate, $50 per SRC candidate and $400 per ticket.
Ergas believes this will improve accessibility by “ensuring students don’t need to fork out thousands of dollars” to run. In comparison, the USU covers up to $500 of Board candidates’
Polling booth hours at satellite campuses — currently as short as two hours on one day — would be extended too, with the $33.64 per hour cost of extra polling booth attendants borne by the SRC.
Reducing harassment of voters
The harassment of potential voters by campaigners — and of campaigners by each other — is discussed after nearly every election.
The current regulations forbid “physical or verbal intimidation … or non-consensual physical contact” of potential voters, candidates, campaigners and electoral staff. Yet, as Honi examined last year in ‘Student politics is the worst. Can we fix it?’, this regulation is vague and ill-enforced. It also fails to encompass the scope of practices employed by campaigners that students may find distressing.
Current regulations let swarms of campaigners surround potential voters. Ergas, Pytka and Chu suggest only one person per brand should be allowed to campaign to a voter at the same time to solve the problem. However, in last year’s election, with multiple SRC and Honi tickets in the running, eight people could still surround a potential voter even with the new regulations.
The recommendations also include increasing the ‘exclusion zone’ from ten to 15 metres. Ergas hopes this will curb the “abhorrent” behaviour of campaigners “[coercing] voters by walking them right to the booth and watching them cast their ballot (often quite literally looking over their shoulder as they vote)”. It is hard to see how this would be more than a cosmetic change however, as it seems likely students will still be harassed until they reach the line; they’ll just get an extra five metres of peace once over it.
Students would also be given non-partisan “I voted” stickers by the SRC. Currently, many tickets produce their own, using them as a protection racket. “You won’t be approached again if you vote for me” is a familiar refrain from campaigners.
Will they get passed?
When a host of similar reforms drafted by Cameron Caccamo, Georgia Kriz and Riki Scanlan were proposed in 2015, two consecutive council meetings were rendered inquorate by Labor factions’ non-attendance. Caccamo, Kriz and Scanlan ultimately withdrew their motion because it was too late for the changes to be implemented for that year’s election.
The key difference between then and now is that these changes are being put forward as recommendations rather than a motion — they will be discussed but not voted on in March. Hopefully, some factions are more willing to consider the issue as a result.
In their current form, however, NLS (Labor left) and Unity (Labor right) would vote them down.
According to USyd NLS Convenor Adam Torres, the faction supports “a safer and more engaging campaign period, but we aren’t convinced that this suite of regulation changes will achieve that”.
Unity specifically opposes a recommendation to pay the returning officer (RO) a fixed stipend rather than an hourly rate. USyd Unity Convenor Adam Boidin said this would “shortchange” the RO.
Kerrod Gream, a member of the moderate Liberals, said his faction would only partially support these changes, as he is concerned about “the funding cap locking out genuine independent students by limiting them to $50 of spending … We’re still in the process of negotiating and would rather work with all sides and meet a mutual agreement.”
Both Torres and Boidin also said there had not been proper consultation with relevant groups, including the returning officer.
Ergas told Honi the factions were provided with draft changes a month ago, and that he, Pytka and Chu have “actively sought the input of all factions… and will continue to do so during and after the Council meeting.”
Another source told Honi the reforms would have been stronger, but “were really watered down through negotiations” with NLS, Unity and the moderate Liberals.
The recommendations would likely gain support from Ergas’ faction Grassroots, which does not bind members in votes but has “consistently proposed and unanimously supported electoral reform in the past,” according to Ergas.
Chu said he and his “Team Cumbo ‘faction’ of 2 are going to support any change”. Pytka was unable to confirm if her faction, SLS, would be supporting the changes.
As ever, electoral reform looks to be on shaky ground.