BY JACKSON MILLER
The Deakin University Student Association (DUSA) has refused to conduct its upcoming election electronically, telling students they must head to their nearest post box if they want to cast their ballot.
With attendance polling is no longer possible due to COVID-19, DUSA’s postal poll has many students feeling like they will be disadvantaged.
Student activist Samantha Wheeler told MOJO News students who are disabled or immunocompromised will particularly feel impeded.
“They don’t want to leave their home, but this postal vote will force them to, putting them at risk,” Ms Wheeler said.
“This is extremely undemocratic, to exclude particular types and demographics of students.”
“DUSA is preventing many students from voting and risking the health and safety 🤒🤧😷 of many others when an online election is possible,” the post read.
According to the DUSA election regulations, both electronic and postal polling are valid alternatives to attendance polling.
DUSA general secretary Hamish Whitten said the current state of affairs in Victoria made attendance polling impossible.
“Off the back of government and university health advice, DUSA naturally concluded that its annual election, traditionally held via attendance polling, would need to be held via alternative methods,” Mr Whitten said.
“The student council initially investigated multiple options for the election, including Deakin’s existing election software.”
Mr Whitten said after these investigations were concluded, the only system capable of accommodating DUSA’s complex ballot requirements (multiple positions and multiple electoral rolls) on such a tight turnaround was postal polling.
But, he said the queer representatives ballot, which decides the students who will represent Deakin’s queer community, will remain electronic as it always has.
“This ballot has an entirely separate registration method and is relatively easy to administer online with a comparatively low turnout,” he said.
“Mail ballots also create a chance that a student may be outed against their will.
We never want to risk even a single member who has not come out having to explain to an intrusive or curious parent or housemate, who opens their mail, why they have registered for a queer ballot.”
Ms Wheeler said the disadvantages she sees the postal poll causing students has led her to become extremely stressed.
“I have had a mental breakdown because of what is happening at Deakin,” she said.
“It’s gotten to the point where I’ve seriously asked whether I should withdraw or continue my studies.”
Biomedical science student Sanchita Sarkar agrees with Ms Wheeler and said the postal poll will disadvantage students.
“It’s a major inconvenience,” Ms Sarkar said.
“Instead of making it easy and accessible with an online system, it will create an extra headache for any student that wants to vote.”
Engineering student Sonu Jiya said many international students have volunteered for DUSA and yet, in her opinion, they will be unaware of this change.
“I don’t think international students are much aware of this [new] voting system at all,” Ms Jiya said.
Mr Whitten did acknowledge there will be some students, such as international students who live overseas, who will be disadvantaged.
“If there was a solution that meant this demographic wouldn’t be disadvantaged, then the student council would have adopted it,” Mr Whitten said.
However, he also said there is “no perfect system”, with electronic polling posing a challenge to students with little to no internet access.
“In short, we investigated many options and this was the least detrimental outcome to the smallest group of students that was achievable.”
The student council has extended the time a student has to return a ballot and will be sending ballots out as soon as practical.
Additionally, students overseas can proxy their ballot to another student in Australia, to avoid ballots having to make long journeys.
“2020 has been a year of great change and challenge and our election is no different,” Mr Whitten said.
“If the student council had believed an election conducted online would have been possible and secure, we would have done so. However, it was clear to us, and the independent returning officer, that this was not the case.”
Students will go to the (postal) polls between September 14-25.
For more information on the election, click here.