Negative campaigning can only increase voter turnout

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Campus was littered with promises, posters and candidates pacing around campus in the search for support and for votes whilst the rest of us looked on with a mixture of intrigue and confusion. It was of course the return of elections to campus, this time the full-time executive officer elections. And one can only wonder if the election itself could have been livened up, made into a truly gripping duel between candidates as they vied for a place at the head of the union next year. The one thing that could improve elections? Negative campaigning.

For those of you uninitiated into union rules on campaigning, candidates are restricted from pointing out the weaknesses of their opposition or criticising their opponents’ track-record on the issues that may well shape the election or even the actual role they are running for. Facebook cannot be used to actively campaign, meaning candidates are unable to adapt to the changes that are transforming the very society we live in and use the internet to support themselves. Is this really how an election should be fought?

Our campus elections are fought in such as sterile atmosphere that seems to dissuade us from debate and criticism. What candidate seriously expects to avoid any probing questions into their past experience, manifesto or weaknesses in their campaigns or policies? If there are any, they are most probably unfit for the role they wish people to vote them into. It is simply a detriment to our election process that we cannot allow for valid criticism to be made of the candidates involved. We are not asking for war and slander, just the simple ability to be able to differentiate the competent from those who would be unable to fulfill the role they covet.

We should allow for an overhaul of our election rules. Firstly, allow for the use of Facebook to campaign with. Current rules do not even allow for contestants’ Facebook groups to actively support the candidate in group messages. Their friends are not allowed to support them on Facebook; there can be no use of statuses to promote the candidature of specific individuals. Why not allow for Facebook to be utilised to its full potential? Allow candidates to campaign heavily on Facebook and allow for the same on twitter as well. It is to the detriment of our election process that the internet is practically excluded from playing a role in the build-up to the vote.

Secondly, replace hustings with a genuine platform for debate where people can ask questions of the candidates and opponents can explore weaknesses in the policies and eligibility of the different participants in the election race. Hustings are too impersonal; there is very little chance to interrogate candidates and very little ability for candidates to portray themselves as the best choice for the position. It would be far more informative, and far more interesting, if candidates were to engage in restrained debate rather than simply preach their ideas to the audience from a lectern.
Finally, the creation of an election magazine to be distributed around campus would greatly increase the coverage each participant received. They could write an article each explaining why they think they were the best choice for their position and why they are better than the other candidates running against them. This would enable greater coverage and a better understanding of what each election candidate truly wanted to achieve and sort the pretenders from the “real deal”; the candidate who has a fresh and original approach to the role they wish to undertake.

These changes are easy to undertake and would be regulated to ensure that slander does not overtake the election process. It would also enable LUSU to engage with its electorate, allowing its candidates to not simply be a distant intrusion on the daily walk across campus to lectures but a vital and engaging part of campus life. Negative campaigning would do much to prepare full-time executive officers for the role they are about to enter; there has to be a recognition that this is a step up from JCR or part-time officer work. Dismiss it at your peril; negative campaigning is necessary for our elections.