Ben Watson on Guild elections at UWA.
‘People often say that, in a democracy, decisions are made by a majority of the people. Of course, that is not true. Decisions are made by a majority of those who make themselves heard and who vote – a very different thing.’ – Walter H Judd (Former US Congressman and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient)
The way in which Guild elections at UWA are currently conducted presents us with the very problem outlined by Walter H Judd: we are being represented by a Guild elected by the minority of students who vote, and we have made it unacceptably difficult for the majority of UWA students to participate in elections. If we are to have a Guild, we should aim to provide as many students as possible the opportunity to be heard and to vote with ease.
At UWA, we should aim to be more inclusive in the way we conduct elections. The current locations of voting booths in UWA Guild elections are patently undemocratic, disenfranchising a majority of the student population and ensuring that certain student groups are over-represented in our voting population.
The location of the booths on Oak Lawn and the Reid Library lawn provide unequal voting opportunities to members of the Law and Arts faculties. Students who spend the majority of their time in the Business School, the Science area, Engineering or Mathematics must go significantly out of their way to vote. Our aim should be to encourage all students to have a say in who represents them, and providing equal geographic access to polling booths is essential in enfranchising as many UWA students as possible.
Would we consider having two election booths a street apart and none in the rest of the electorate in a Federal or State election democratic? What about only having booths in suburbs that strongly favour one party? Of course not. So why do we tolerate such blatantly undemocratic behaviour in the Guild?
Roaming booths at the Medicine and Dentistry are not sufficient either. They are only available on one day and for just a few hours. Some may scoff and say these students aren’t usually interested in politics. This is clearly unfair. They are contributing members of our University community, and should have equal opportunity for their voice to be heard with equal ease. By locating polling booths where we currently do, we are further entrenching the myth that only those interested in the Law and Humanities are interested in the political process.
By placing the booths near the Law and Arts faculties, are we saying to the 5000 students in the business school or the 8000 students who study Science that their vote, and hence their opinion, isn’t valued? The Guild provides services for all UWA students, and as such, all UWA students should have adequate opportunities to be heard. The current placement of booths does not achieve this. The university campus has changed and booth placement needs to change to reflect that.
There must be an immediate, serious and non-partisan review of the placement of the polling booths with changes to be made to provide the maximum opportunity for all students to have their say in student elections. Booth placement must be based on student populations, not on historical voting patterns. A Guild that claims it wants to improve inclusiveness on campus must start by including more students in the way that the Guild itself is elected.