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Landslide wins see Ben Jorgensen and Benny Shen elected to Senate

Jorgensen was elected on the first count with three times the number of votes as his undergraduate competitors, while Shen was elected on the second count with twice as many votes as the postgraduate runner-up.

Ben Jorgensen (Liberals) has been provisionally elected to USyd’s Senate as the undergraduate student fellow, while Yinfeng (Benny) Shen (Independent) has been provisionally elected as the postgraduate student fellow.

This follows a relatively quiet election, with Jorgensen defeating fellow undergraduate candidates Yang Tu and Aaron Kumar, and Shen defeating postgraduate rivals Thrishank Chintamaneni, Amrutha Amesh, Lehi Dudley and Evan Hughes.

Elections analysis

Jorgensen was elected by a landslide 1257 votes, exceeding quota on the first count by almost 200 votes. He received approximately three times the number of votes than Aaron Kumar and Yang Tu, which is indicative of a decisive, fairly one-sided election. 

His campaign was the most visible of the three undergraduate candidates, characterised by personally-funded flyers and brochures, as well as both in-person and online campaigning to voters. No doubt, this is the result of his previous electoral experience in both SRC and USU campaigns, as well as on the executive of a number of clubs and societies.

The postgraduate senate election had a slightly higher degree of competition, with both Benny Shen and SULS Vice-President (Careers) Thrishank Chintamaneni embarking on social media campaigns, and likely drawing on reserves of support from the student housing and SULS demographics respectively. Despite this, Shen still won his election on the second count with a healthy lead of 866 votes, approximately twice the amount of runner-up Evan Hughes.

Voter turnout

In line with previous trends, Senate candidates have struggled to engage students, with a relatively low voter turnout of  only 2167 and 1730 in the undergraduate and postgraduate elections respectively. This respectively represents only 5.53 per cent and 5.95 per cent of the eligible voting populations.

These results show a marked decrease in voter participation since the last Senate elections in 2020, and are consistent with trends for other student elections for the USU and SRC this year, which have seen record low voter participation. In Honi’s most recent SRC elections analysis, one possible factor for low participation is a loss of institutional and campaigning knowledge, after two years of off-campus learning largely extinguished a traditionally vibrant campus culture. Indeed, there were only three candidates in this year’s undergraduate elections, which is a sharp decline from 2020’s 8 nominees and 2018’s 24 candidates.

This year’s undergraduate Senate elections had a higher voter turnout than the SRC elections, the latter of which is renowned for being the most hotly contested and most visible of USyd’s student elections. 

Although this year’s low participation rates are an anomaly for SRC elections, Honi speculates that higher turnout in the Senate elections is due to greater discussion and interest in the latter compared to previous years, as well as lower voter fatigue, given lower engagement in this year’s USU and SRC elections.

Electoral regulations

Compared to other elections, the Senate elections have the least comprehensive regulations, resulting in a completely different campaign battle ground. Elections are conducted according to the University of Sydney By-law (1999), and the Returning Officer David Pacey is employed by the University. 

Unlike the SRC and USU elections, there are no formal regulations on campaigning. Candidates are permitted to campaign as soon as the ballot is announced, although most did not begin until voting opened on 4 October. The University also does not provide any campaign funding for candidates – nor funding caps. Jorgensen’s campaign clearly took advantage of this, with Jorgensen personally funding all of his campaign materials.

Although the regulations also state that the election must be administered by way of secret ballot, the online format makes it particularly more difficult than physical ballots to guarantee that all votes are casted privately. Additionally, there are minimal directives on the email notifications and ballot themselves advising voters not to share their ballot with others.

In 2014 and 2016, undergraduate fellows Dalton Fogarty and Colin Whitchurch allegedly breached regulations by standing over voters and watching as they casted their votes. Indeed, there has been speculation that certain candidates in this year’s elections acted in a similar unethical manner by standing over voters as they casted their votes.

What next?

Both Jorgensen and Shen are promising a suite of reforms in student services such as special considerations, as well as promoting diversity on campus. However, it is yet to be seen how effectively they will be able to carry out their promises given concerns about the effectiveness of student fellows in influencing University management.

Jorgensen and Shen have the most electoral experience out of the candidates within their respective ballots. Jorgensen has been involved in three consecutive SRC elections with Liberal-backed tickets and was an executive of USyd’s Conservative Club, while Shen held office as USU Honorary Treasurer from 2020 to 2021 (Panda-aligned, currently known as Penta, at time of election) and most recently as SUPRA Education Officer.

Jorgensen’s election follows a trend of Liberals holding office within the Senate, with his immediate undergraduate predecessors Gabi Stricker-Phelps and Francis Tamer both having conservative leanings.

In recent times, the student fellows of the Senate have had distant, if not hostile, relationships with other student representative organisations like the SRC and the USU, with Stricker-Phelps and Lachlan Finch contributing little to the SRC’s campaigns against 12-week semesters and 5-day simple extensions.

“The SRC will continue to hold the Senate to account, because as part of University management the Senate is responsible for the poor working and learning conditions at this institution,” said SRC President-elect Lia Perkins.

“The outgoing undergraduate fellow [Stricker-Phelps] has (unsurprisingly) completely failed students by not attending SRC meetings, and the newly elected fellow [Jorgensen] should attend to allow the Council to scrutinise his decisions and oppose his pro-Liberal positions,” Perkins said.

Jorgensen and Shen will hold office for a term of two years, ending in 2024.