In student elections, the only thing that matters is making sure your campaigners are the ones getting potential voters over the line and into the voting area.
Whilst election regulations at Monash prohibit voters from being physically walked up to the ballot box, campaigners are allowed to guide students up to the general voting area. A campaigner who has been able to walk a potential voter all the way up to the voting area without letting their opposition in is assumed to have “won” the vote.
This is why, after the first day of voting in the 2014 Monash Student Association general elections, Go! and Switch were panicking.
The deal struck between Go! and Switch – which would result in the tickets not contesting each other for Office Bearer positions whilst still competing to win positions on committees and delegate positions- was widely considered by student politics enthusiasts to be enough to lock the wildly unpopular (if social media is anything to go by) Socialist Alternative-linked ticket “Left Hook” out of the Association.
Perhaps not being threatened by each other caused both tickets to relax. Perhaps the parts of Switch which had clung proudly to the concept of never doing preference trades and negotiating with other tickets were displeased enough at the concept of working with Go! that they decided to withdraw their support. Perhaps the impending deregistration of the Socialist Alternative club from the MSA division of Clubs & Societies was enough to fire up Left Hook and bring them out in force.
Whatever the reason, on day one of campaigning, Left Hook campaigners outnumbered Go! 4:1 and Switch 8:1. Their campaigners were seen to be walking more students over the line, getting their How-to-Vote flyers in more hands and being able to more effectively coordinate their campaign message. Furthermore, reports of verbal attacks, attempts at intimidation and bullying behaviour towards Go! and Switch campaigners gave Left Hook an increased edge, with many volunteers withdrawing from campaigning to file complaint reports with Returning Officer Will Fowles – Lot’s Wife has been told that 14 complaints were filed in two hours of campaigning.
This was enough to push the Blue and Green alliance into panic mode.
Day two of campaigning saw the playing field leveled with Go! and Switch together managing to nearly equal the number of volunteers as Left Hook. However the absence of the Returning Officer from campus also saw the campaign turn increasingly vicious, with Blue-Green campaigners reporting that they were being subject to racist and sexist taunts, as well as having triggers purposefully exploited. Talk of funding cuts targeting certain divisions and departments and rumours linking several MSA departments and programs to sexual violence causing the RO to reassert that anyone campaigning on that kind of platform would be immediately banned and, if possible, disqualified.
Day two ended still on a frustrating note, with voter numbers down on previous years. Not only did it mean that every vote was more valuable, but it also put the referendum to create a Disabilities office within the Association at risk of failing by default, regardless of the number of Yes and No votes.
Will Fowles’ return to Clayton for day three of campaigning began with all the Authorised Officers – the “leaders” of each ticket – being read the proverbial riot act over the previous days’ behaviour. Multiple Left Hook campaigners were given short-term suspensions for selling the Marxist newspaper Red Flag, as election regulations prohibit both the selling of goods by a ticket and the distribution of unauthorised materials by a ticket. Many Go! and Switch campaigners also fell foul of Fowles, receiving short-term suspensions for amongst other things making reference to the deregistration of the Socialist Alternative club whilst campaigning and for excessive “liking” of anti-Left Hook posts on public social media arenas such as Monash Stalkerspace.
By the final day of campaigning, Go! and Switch finally looked more settled- no doubt aided by a genuine, non-aligned social media movement by some Monash students encouraging more students to come out and vote. Thursday afternoon also saw Fowles spectacularly ban current Environmental and Social Justice Officer Con Karavias from participating in all future MSA elections after allegations of bullying behaviour and misleading the Returning Officer came to light. Fowles also handed down a disqualification and a ban from campaigning to Left Hook Women’s Officer candidate Kahlani Pryah, who refused to comply with directions from the Returning Officer to cease distributing Red Flag and serve a two-hour suspension for campaigning. You can read the reports for both these incidents on the MSA website.
4:30pm on Thursday, September 25 saw the close of polls. As exhausted campaigners gathered in Campus Centre to relax after another hectic week, with Go! taking up residence in Sir John’s bar, Switch in Wholefoods and Left Hook briefly spotted in the Activist space to await the results.
The first results came in around 7:30pm, with Sinead Colee being declared President on an 80% primary, which research from Lot’s Wife indicates may be the highest primary in at least a decade, if not more. Further results followed this trend, with Go! and Switch candidates regularly polling upwards of 1900 votes.
So what of the great panic? Campaigners and those involved with the campaigns spoken to by Lot’s Wife still maintain that it is likely that Left Hook “won” day one of the campaign, although we’ll never know for certain, and that Left Hook definitely had early momentum based on sheer numbers alone.
Traditionally in MSA elections, the first day of polling has had the highest voter turn-out, and if you “won” day one you were on track to “win” the election. It is unusual to see (as we did this year) voter numbers grow as the week progressed, as student apathy and disengagement leads many to avoid Campus Centre altogether during this time.
In the final edition for 2013, former editor Florence Rooney mourned the lack of student interest and engagement with campus politics. From my position, it appear that two campaigns were run this year: one by the ticket campaigners on the ground, and one by the hundreds of students who took to social media to encourage their friends, classmates and total strangers to get informed and to vote for the future of their student association.
Maybe students aren’t so apathetic after all.
Disclaimer: Amy, Andrew, Amena and Shalaka ran for Lot’s Wife Editors under the Go! ticket in 2013.