Elections

Elections are a key part of governing your Grad Group and it is important that they are run fairly, democratically and transparently. In preparation for your elections, you will need to consider the following:

  • What rules and requirements are outlined in your Constitution regarding Elections?
  • Do any roles need adding, changing or removing?
  • What are your returning officer requirements
  • Who can run?
  • What nomination process will you follow?
  • How will you advertise the elections and get people to run?
  • Will you allow campaigning?
  • How will voting be managed?
  • Have you prepared for handover?

You might also find these useful:

  • AGM How To Guide
  • AGM Agenda and Minutes template

If you have any more questions or require any support in organising your elections, feel free to contact us at gradgroups@gsa.unimelb.edu or book in to meet with us at calendly.com/gsagradgroups.

Rules and requirements

Check your Grad Group’s constitution and see what rules and requirements have been put in place internally for running your election. For example, it may outline when elections can take place, whether elections can take place online, or how voting can take place.

If, after reviewing this document, you see that there are areas not outlined in your Constitution, ensure that you agree them at a Committee Meeting ahead of the AGM.

When planning your Election, consider accessibility. This might include putting in reasonable adjustments to allow someone to stand for a role or to vote, or putting structures in place to support and encourage people with protected characteristics or who are less likely to run in standing for a role or voting.

Ensure all rules and requirements are communicated widely ahead of the Election.

Review your roles

Book in time with your committee to review your constitution and committee roles and assess if they are fit for purpose and up-to-date. There’s no point in having roles in place that don’t reflect your Grad Group’s requirements or operating procedures. The main question to ask is: do any clauses or roles need changing, removing or adding? You should open this review to all of your committee and you may choose to include or consult with your members.

You may choose to vote on these changes at the AGM or at a Special General Meeting or Executive Meeting prior to the AGM (depending on the Grad Group’s constitution’s rules for constitutional change). For example, you may wish to vote on new roles ahead of the AGM, so that members can prepare themselves to run for election at the AGM.

The rules for constitutional changes should be outlined in your constitution. The GSA Model Constitution, for example, requires ‘a simple majority of members present voting at a Special General Meeting, Annual General Meeting, or by Special Resolution’ and that ‘constitutional motions must be presented in writing to the committee at least ten academic days before the meeting’.

Roles outside of the constitution

As a Grad Group grows and changes, you may find you require some new duties to be undertaken and decide to create a position to cater to this. However, it’s important to note that not all positions need to be added to your constitution and, as such, don’t need to be voted on at your AGM.

A good way to separate these is to consider the responsibility of the position and if the position will hold any governance for the Grad Group. For example, the Events Officer will likely make decisions and have a reasonable say in the events plan for the year and how events are run, so they hold a role of large responsibility and governance. An Events Assistant, who helps at events and supports the Officer in administration, holds far less responsibility and has no power in relation to governance. In this case, it’s worth discussing with your Grad Group the best way to accept someone into a non-elected position.

Returning Officer

Every election must have a Returning Officer to ensure the rules are followed and the election is fair. The Returning Officer should be unbiased and publicly impartial and, as such, cannot be running for any role, however they are able to vote. The Committee should nominate and agree a Returning Officer before the election. You might select an outgoing Committee member or a trusted member of the Grad Group.

If you are unable to select a suitable Returning Officer (for example, perhaps all your members are running for roles) you can request that GSA provides a Returning Officer. Just email gradgroups@gsa.unimelb.edu.au with at least two weeks’ notice.

The Returning Officer must be selected ahead of the AGM. They should work with the Committee to review the rules and regulations and agree any additional rules in advance that should be adhered to throughout the election process. They should work with the Committee to decide what penalties will be given if rules are broken or if there is cheating. Penalties can include removing votes or exclusion from the election.

At the election, the Returning Officer runs the election. They should explain the process to everyone present and be on hand ensure the rules are followed and that the election is a fair and democratic process. If there are timed speeches or questions, the Returning Officer would normally be the one to time them. In the event of uncertainty or rule breaking, the Returning Officer’s decision is final.

Who can run?

Your Constitution or procedures may outline any stipulations regarding who can run for your committee roles. Many Grad Groups are happy to have all roles open to all members, however there may be occasion to have additional eligibility criteria.
For example, if you have roles for diversity, inclusion and representation, you may stipulate that candidates are members of that group. For example, you may stipulate that only international students may run for the role of International Officer.

Some larger or more established Grad Groups also choose to put restrictions on Executive roles. For example, stating that a member must have been active in the Grad Group for at least a year before they can run for President. You may wish to include a provision that members who have not been active that long may run if they have the backing of a current committee member.

It is important to note that GSA requires that at least 75% of your Committee and 75% of your Executive Committee are graduate students from the University of Melbourne.

Nominations

Firstly, decide if nominations require a ‘second’ (where another member must second the nomination for someone to run). This may be appropriate for larger and more formal Grad Groups but is not usually not necessary.

Secondly, decide if nominations must be self-nominated or if others can nominate someone to run. Allowing others to nominate can be a good encouragement to push someone to stand for a role, but it’s important to ensure that no one is being forced to stand for a position against their will.

There are several approaches for handling nominations.

Nominations open ahead of time (a nomination period)

You might choose to receive nominations ahead of time (a nomination period). For this, you may request Expression of Interests to be sent to the Returning Officer from interested members via whatever means you feel is appropriate (for example email, online form, text message, phone calls, in person, and/or a printed nomination form). A nomination period would normally have an ‘Opening’ time and a ‘Deadline’ and the Returning Officer would check that nominations were received within the agreed period.

A nomination period can be beneficial if you have a larger group and are running a more formal election, as it gives the Returning Officer time to collate the information and prepare for the election. It also allows you to track how popular a role is and potentially try and attract people to run for roles that no one is putting themselves forward for. However, it may seem a little less accessible and may mean fewer people are able to run.

Nominations open at the AGM

You may choose to allow people to turn up and nominate themselves at the AGM. For example, the Returning Officer can announce each role and ask anyone who would like to run for it to put up their hand or stand at the front of the room.

Having nominations open at the AGM can be beneficial as it allows more opportunity for people to run, can be more accessible and fair, and may encourage people who are a bit nervous to get involved and give it a shot. It also means that if you have a role that no one is standing for, someone may choose to run for it on the day. However, this can be harder to coordinate on the day and can mean the AGM runs less smoothly.

Nominations open ahead of time and at the AGM

You may choose to combine both options – holding an optional nomination period but also allowing anyone to run on the day.

Get people to run

Depending on the size and scope of your Grad Group, this will either be the easiest or hardest part of running your elections: getting people to run for a role!

It’s important to advertise the elections widely, to allow anyone eligible a fair opportunity to run. You might use email, text, newsletter, a WhatsApp Group, a Facebook Event, social media, lecture bombs, posters or through whichever means your Group usually communicates. You could also choose to hold Info Sessions so people can find out more about the roles and what being on the Committee would entail.

The personal touch works wonders: if you think someone would make a good President or Treasurer – tell them! If you’re connected to a Faculty, you could ask your supervisors and lecturers to suggest people to run. Giving someone a little encouragement might just give them the boost to run.

Your Grad Group may also allow nominations (where a member can nominate someone to run) or run a ‘recommend-a-friend’ scheme (where a member can submit the name of someone who is then informed that someone thinks they would be good for a role and asked if they would like to self-nominate).

Importantly, there may be people you want to run, but you should never discourage someone from running.

Campaigning

For larger, more established or more competitive Grad Groups, you may choose to hold a Campaigning Period, between the announcement of candidates and the election. This gives candidates an opportunity to engage with members, communicate their plans for the Group and provides a space for members to scrutinise candidates and make an informed choice. During a campaign period, you may choose to hold hustings (an event where candidates can address members and where members can ask them questions in a public forum).

If you do choose to host a Campaigning Period, it is important to work with your Returning Officer to produce strict guidelines on what is and isn’t allowed in campaigning to ensure accessibility and democratic fairness (for example, campaign expenditure, activity and promotion).

For most Groups, a Campaigning Period would be an unnecessary step. However, if it is something your Group wishes to do and you need any support or further guidance on this, please just get in touch.

Voting

Check if your constitution outlines how electoral voting should be undertaken. If not (or if you choose to change it), there are quite a few options. There are many different forms of voting out there, however most Grad Groups choose to undertake either a ‘Simple Vote’ (suitable if there is only one or two candidates) or a ‘Single Transferable Vote’ (where preferences are taken into account).

Simple Vote (First Past the Post)

In a Simple Vote, also known as ‘First Past the Post’ or ‘Winner Takes All’, voters each have one vote and the candidate with the most votes wins. This style of vote is very straightforward and so can be good for smaller groups or when you only have one or two candidates. However, it doesn’t allows voters to express their preferences beyond one candidate and can mean that a candidate can win without a clear majority (for example, if A receives 5 votes, B receives 4 votes, C receives 4 votes and D receives 3 votes, then A wins with just 31% of the vote).

You may choose to undertake this style of vote via Show of Hands or Secret Ballot.

Show of Hands

This is generally not recommended as it is not completely anonymous. However, for smaller and less formal groups, where there are only one or two candidates running, it may be appropriate.

Candidates should step out of the room when voting take place, however they should still have the opportunity to cast their own vote. The Returning Officer should ask all members to close their eyes and vote by show of hands.

The person with the highest number of votes is elected. If there is more than one position (for example, a group may have two Events Officers) these can either be voted on separately or the runner-up of the election can be given the second position. Make sure you make this clear when the vote is being undertaken.

The Returning Officer should count the number the votes for each person and make a record of them. It’s optional whether you disclose the number of votes to the candidates or if you just announce the winner.

If there is a tie, you may re-run the vote with the tied candidates only and/or use a coin toss to decide the winner.

Secret Ballot

A secret ballot is undertaken by votes being written on paper or submitted to an online service/app. Compared to a Show of Hands, this form of voting is much more confidential and anonymous.

To undertake a secret ballot, voters write the name of their preferred candidate on a ballot slip, or if the slip is pre-prepared put a cross next to their preferred candidate’s name. You may also choose to undertake a Secret Ballot using an online tool or app. If the ballot slip is not prepared ahead of time, it is useful to have the candidates’ names written somewhere highly visible so voters can ensure they are voting for the correct person.

The person with the highest number of votes wins the election. If there are two positions available (for example, a group may have three Team Leaders) these can either be voted on separately or the runner-up of the election can be given the second position. Make sure you make this clear when the vote is being undertaken.

The Returning Officer should count the number the votes for each person and make a record of them. It’s optional whether you disclose the number of votes to the candidates or if you just announce the winner.

If there is a tie, you may re-run the vote with the tied candidates only and/or use a coin toss to decide the winner.

Single Transferable Vote

Single Transferable Vote (STV, also known as ‘Fair Representation Voting’) takes into consideration voter’s preferences of multiple candidates. This system is more complicated and can take longer than a Simple Vote but it allows individuals to express their preference a lot clearer. It is particularly useful for larger committees or roles with three or more candidates running.

To undertake STV, voters should allocate their preferences to the candidates. If the ballot is prepared in advance, they can do this by noting their preferred order by putting numbers next to the candidates name. If the ballot is not prepared in advance, they can show their preferences by writing the candidates’ names in order of preference. You may also use an online tool or app for STV voting.

Votes do not have to list all their preferences and may only vote for one candidate if they wish. It is useful to have the candidates’ names written somewhere highly visible so voters can ensure they are voting for the correct person.
To tally these votes, the Returning Officer should count up all the First Preference votes. If one candidate has over 50% of the vote, they are the winner. If no candidate has over 50% of the vote, then the person with the least number of votes is eliminated and all their votes are redistributed according to the preferences on their ballot papers.

This process continues until someone receives over 50% of the vote or, when only two people are left, the person who receives the highest number of votes. If there is a tie in the Final Stage, then the winner is the candidate who had the higher percentage of votes in the previous round. If the two candidates have been tied throughout every round, the Returning Officer may choose to hold a run off Simple Vote for the two remaining candidates or use a coin toss to decide the winner.
If there are two positions available (for example, a group may have three Team Leaders) these can either be voted on separately or the runner-up of the election can be given the second position. Make sure you make this clear when the vote is being undertaken.

The Returning Officer should count the number the votes for each person and make a record of them. It’s optional whether you disclose the number of votes to the candidates or if you just announce the winner.

Re-open Nominations (RON)

You may choose to include ‘Re-open Nominations’ (RON) as an option for voting. This allows voters the option to choose no candidates and ask for the position to be re-run. Allowing RON allows for a more democratic approach to elections, particularly if there is only one or two people running, as it allows voters to indicate that they do not feel anyone running is suitable for the position and aren’t pressured into voting for someone they don’t want to, just because there is no other choice.

In the case of Simple Voting, if you are using the Show of Hands method of voting, the Returning Officer should state ‘RON’ as one of the options during the vote (usually as the last option, making it clear it isn’t a candidate called Ron). If you are using Secret Ballots, RON should be one of the options in the list that voters can note down or put a tick next to.

In the case of STV, voters may choose RON at any stage. For example, they may choose to vote for one candidate, then vote RON as their second preference; following this, they could still have other preferences or have no more preferences.

Wherever you have candidates’ names written (for example, on a prepared ballot sheet, on a PowerPoint, or on a white/blackboard), you should include RON as one of the options (usually last). Make sure you explain RON to all voters before the first vote.

Who can vote?

Check your constitution but in general the people who can vote are:

  • Full members
  • The Returning Officer
  • Committee
  • The candidates themselves

Associate members are normally not eligible to vote.

Proxy / Absentee voting

You may choose to allow Proxy / Absentee voting (unless there is a stipulation against such voting in your Constitution or Procedures), particularly if your election takes place outside of term time or if your members are regularly separated across a variety of locations (for example, students on placement).

While these votes are included in the calculated total votes (for example, for a majority win or the number of votes required for a motion to pass), it is important to note that the member is not counted as in attendance and, as such, does not count towards quorum.

Directly to Returning Officer

If you are announcing standing candidates before the Election and are not allowing ‘walk in’ nominations, you may allow Proxy / Absentee votes to go directly to the Returning Officer. In this case, you would normally request that all votes are received by preferred means (for example, email or over the phone) by a certain time before the Election starts.

It may be prudent to request details such as the voter’s name, university address, student ID, reason why they are unable to attend and confirmation that they are a member of the Grad Group. Some groups also put stipulations on what is considered a legitimate reason for non-attendance and, as such, only accept Proxy / Absentee votes under some circumstances.

You will need to ensure that voters are only able to vote once and that the Returning Officer is able to verify that the person voting is indeed a member.

Via a Proxy Voter/Holder

You may choose to allow Proxy Voters/Holder to vote on behalf of an absent member. It’s important to ensure that the Proxy Vote is legitimate – for example, using a Signed Proxy Form detailing the member’s full name, student number, email address and a statement that clearly identifies that they wish to nominate their fellow member to vote on their behalf.

If standing candidates (or motions) are announced before the Election, voters may instruct their Proxy Voters/Holder how they wish to vote. If not, they may leave it up to the discretion of their Proxy.

Online

An alternative option is to allow absentee voters be present via phone or video call. You would need to ensure they can submit votes directly to the Returning Officer in a confidential manner – for example, via text, messenger, email or form. If you use an online form, you will need to ensure that voters are only able to vote once and that the Returning Officer is able to verify that the person voting is indeed a member.

Online elections

Hosting an in-person AGM and Election might not always be practical or democratic for some Grad Groups. Online elections offer an alternative option, particularly for groups where membership is spread across Victoria or are regularly on placement. Most of the guidance above is also relevant for online elections, so please read that carefully. If this is an avenue you would like to explore and wish to discuss the options further, please just get in touch.

As always, firstly you should check your constitution for any guidance or provision for online elections.

For an online AGM, you may choose to use video chat or an online message based service. There are several ways you can undertake an online election. There are online services that can run an election for you. If your Grad Group has used any, we would love to hear your feedback to share with other Groups.

When organising an online election, it’s important to consider your timeline early. How long is your nomination period, how long is voting open for and when are results going to be announced.

Nominations

Consider how you wish to receive nominations and what candidates must do to nominate (see above). If you are using an online tool, candidates may be able to submit their nomination directly to it. If you are coordinated it ‘in house’, you may, for example, request nominations via email or Google Form.

Campaigning / Access to candidates

You may choose to hold a campaigning period to allow candidates an opportunity to connect with voters. However, you will need strict rules on what can and cannot be undertaken as part of campaigning (see above).

If you are not holding a traditional AGM and there will be no opportunity for voters to have access to all candidates ahead of the vote, consider how you will ensure voters can learn about each candidate. An online service may allow for videos, manifestos and FAQs. If you are coordinating your elections ‘in house’, you may choose to set up, for example, a Facebook Event, blog or Instagram account, where you include the manifestos, a short statement and/or a video of each candidate.

Voting

Decide early how you will undertake online voting, ensuring the process is transparent, democratic and fair. Consider how long the voting period should be and how people can vote. For example, will you use a form, an app or an online service? How will you ensure that every eligible member can vote but stop people that can’t vote from voting? Similarly, how will you ensure members don’t vote more than once?

If you are using a form, for example, you may request identifying details, such as name, student number and email address, but that means votes aren’t anonymous, so the Returning Officer should ensure the votes are kept confidential.
Consider how you will ensure candidates do not unduly influence someone’s vote (for example, candidates cannot watch while a voter votes and cannot vote on their behalf).

Handover

Following the election of your new committee, it’s really important to have a proper handover to ensure the incoming group are trained well and have all the information they need to do their role. You might choose to hold a handover meeting or a series of handover sessions or have individuals organise their own handovers. Just ensure that handover is accessible and thorough and important details (including passwords and logins!) are transferred. You can also use our Handover Template to help with the process.