Student Council Adjusts Election Procedure During COVID-19 Pandemic

By Antoine Germain

Photo: Emma Kappeyne

— After an 11-day campaigning period, Monday will mark the opening of the Student Council Elections for 2020-2021. It will be the opportunity for students to actively engage in AUC’s democracy and choose the people who will represent them for the following year. The Election period will take place from Monday until Thursday. The results will then be announced that Friday.

A debate will also take place on Monday at 12:30, in which candidates will have the opportunity to discuss their policy plans. “We have invested a lot of time in providing a platform online for students and candidates”, says Bart Knibbe, Co-Chair of the current Student Council.

This year differs from the previous one, because a new procedure for the elections has been implemented by the Student Council. Instead of the system used last year, where candidates were ranked on a single list by the elected student council, this time, candidates will be placed on separate lists. The sole deciding factor for elected candidates this year will be the number of votes cast for each candidate, meaning it will be fully up to the students to decide who will represent them.

In order to help voters make their decision, an advisory panel has been set up, which consists of Bluma Brecher, Co-Chair; Sarah Salaymah, a former Student Council member; and Maud van den Berge, a member of the Board of Studies. Although the panel has no role in prioritising candidates, they  will issue an advice that highlights the three most important skills the student council finds in each candidate. Brecher says “The point is not to rank the candidates. The point is to highlight three things that are good about each candidate and let the students choose the candidate that they want.”

The reason for this change of procedure can be traced back to the previous Student Council Elections, a year ago. At that time, the Student Council was trying to implement the elections system used at the VU. “This change was a legal necessity”, says Knibbe. “We realised the Student Council Elections needed to go through the VU because the previous Student Council Elections had been done outside of that and were essentially legally void.”

The Student Council implemented the system preferred at the VU, in which all candidates were ranked on one list by the seated Student Council. The ranking weighed heavily on the results and, in the case of AUC, some candidates who had more votes than others were not elected. This was due to their ranking on the list, which was lower than other candidates.

The decision led to widespread backlash and the Student Council was heavily criticised for being undemocratic. Knibbe, who was also a member of the Student Council at that time, says that he regrets that the wishes of students had not been sufficiently considered. “Given that we had to arrange a lot of things for the implementation of the VU system, we simply did not have the time to consider what this voting procedure would mean for participation at AUC.” This year was different for the Student Council. Kibbe says  “We had the luxury of time this year” and “we discussed the procedure internally, we discussed it with students at open meetings.”

Members of the Student Council decided that they needed to make the votes of students weigh more, in order for these elections to be truly democratic. During their discussions, they considered issues such as the risk that popular candidates would win over candidates more suited to the Student Council. The Student Council opted for a compromise. They would issue advice that has no bearing on the results, simply to orient students. Knibbe believes that this compromise is a good solution. He says “this system is the best suited for participation at AUC.”

The advice issued is based on 45-minute interviews that the Advisory panel conducted with each candidate. In these interviews, candidates were judged on five criteria: preparation, response to the questions, how much of a team they are, responsibility and the general impression the members of the advisory panel got. 

A major unforeseen issue has been the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the Student Council to move the entire procedure online. “It was the only thing that we could do.”, says Jaël Kortekaas, Internal Communications Officer at the Student Council. “We discussed with the VU whether to move the elections, but AUC was not going to reopen this year so we had to do the elections online.”, she adds. Kortekaas was in charge of building the website that would host all the information about the candidates and the procedure. “Campaigning online would be very scattered without a central platform.”

The Student Council wanted one, central platform containing all relevant information. They provided the candidates with templates and sections to customise on the website as well as with tips and guidance on how to conduct their election campaign online.  

Overall, the Student Council praises the current candidates and is optimistic about the elections. Knibbe concludes “We’re very lucky to have seven capable candidates running for Student Council this year.”

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