As hacks gathered at the University of Sydney Union (USU) Board election party, the election’s Returning Officer (RO) met with an anonymous complainant at Manning House who handed over a copy of Hengjie Sun’s how-to-votes.
What followed was a series of events fit for the plot of a House of Cards episode: allegations of campaign overspending, a 28-page report, and a trip to Glebe Officeworks.
You see, the RO had received emails as the vote count was being finalised, complaining that candidates had used expensive looking campaigning material, and demanding that their receipts be “examined”.
Moments after Sun took to the stage as a provisionally elected USU Board Director with the highest number of votes, he was called downstairs.
The RO had a problem with his flyers. They were nice. Too nice. Full colour. Double-sided. Thick paper. Custom size. They walked all over his rivals’.
Upon questioning, Sun admitted he had ordered his flyers from a company he used to work for.
For those not familiar with the USU Election Candidates Handbook, this a contravention of a regulation on page 9 requiring all candidates to get their printing done at Officeworks, of which Sun claimed he wasn’t aware.
Over the next 24 hours, as detailed over five pages of the report, our indefatigable RO took a trip to Officeworks, where the nice woman behind the counter was able to ascertain the specs of Sun’s how-to-votes.
Turns out the size couldn’t be produced in-store — they would have to be hand-cut by staff, on 200 gsm paper, with a matte finish. The kind of quality you’d want your USU Board Director to pursue.
After several unsuccessful attempts to upload Sun’s design files to the Officeworks computers and some visits to docupub.com, the RO found that, had Sun printed his how-to-votes at the USU’s retailer of choice, they would actually have cost $52.20 more than what he spent.
The USU Election Handbook caps spending on printing at $700. Sun’s printing, which came to $643.81, would have come in at $696.01 if ordered from Officeworks online, or $712.51 if ordered in store.
And so the real conundrum emerged: Sun’s printing privileges had in fact cost him less money, but had it also cost him his election win?
The RO admitted: “In making that valuation, I am conscious of the fact that I am engaging in a counterfactual exercise somewhat divorced from reality.”
But Sun’s victory survived to see another day. His misdemeanour was deemed one of ignorance, not intent; he could have kept his order within the spending cap had he ordered from Officeworks, and he probably would have, had he known to go to our printing friends across the way.
The RO did leave Sun with a final piece of advice: “You should pay closer attention to detail”.