iPads? iDisagree – UCLU receives complaints about use of iPads in Spring Elections

iPads? iDisagree – UCLU receives complaints about use of iPads in Spring Elections

REBECCA PINNINGTON reports on the debate surrounding candidates’ use of iPads in order to persuade students into voting for them immediately.

Controversy is rife this election season, particularly in terms of some candidates’ campaigning tactics. The latest argument concerns the use of iPads and tablets in order to persuade lay students immediately to vote for the candidate or group canvassing them.

This has firstly been criticised for capitalising on student apathy and the lack of real attention paid to UCLU elections by the majority of the student body. Many students will be inclined to vote for candidates who canvas them via iPad simply out of politeness and because it is easier than to refuse to do so; this means that votes will be cast with little thought, and little knowledge of the candidates. It has been said that students who encourage or participate in this behaviour are being irresponsible with their democratic rights.

The other main criticism of this technique is that it capitalises on inequality between the candidates; while most candidates will own a laptop or smartphone, not all will have access to such easy-to-use, portable technology as an iPad or tablet. Some candidates therefore find themselves at an advantage, better able to canvas potential voters, and translate persuasive rhetoric into votes quickly and easily. Obviously there is no real way to ensure that all candidates have exactly the same resources for campaigning; however here the disparity would seem particularly problematic. Ultimately, one student pointed out, this is a matter of democracy, and could easily be dealt with by the Union, were it so inclined.

Following a series of complaints, UCLU voted on its stance towards use of iPads and e-devices earlier in the campaigning period. However, there was no mention in the motion of their use in order to encourage or indeed force the immediate registration of votes. 60% of those who voted on the motion said that they were against this, which means that UCLU officially disagrees with candidates’ use of iPads, however failures to achieve a 75% mandate either way means that this is not part of Union electoral policy. It was suggested to Pi that this may be because of a technicality in the motion that would ban the use of laptops to vote; as voting is conducted online, this would be a considerable problem for those running the elections.

A source within UCLU told Pi that, in conversations with current sabbatical officers, UCL Provost Michael Arthur had emphasised his desire to see greater student engagement with the 2014 elections, and hoped to see far higher voter turnouts than UCLU has enjoyed in previous years. The source seemed to think that the use of iPads to persuade students to vote for candidates about whom they knew very little would be justified if it met the Provost’s targets for voter turnout. He stated that concerns could be seen as minor, considering that the only complainants have been sabbatical candidates, and commented, “E-voting and remote voting is a progressive reform; no one can deny that.”

Certainly, use of up-to-date technologies can make elections accessible, however with accusations of intimidation rife in these elections, one must think on how progressive the behaviour of campaigners really is. One candidate currently running for office told Pi that she had witnessed campaigners with iPads behaving aggressively towards voters. She stated that she had seen two men attempt to persuade a small group of students to vote on their iPads in a manner so forceful and persistent that she felt it constituted harassment, and felt that the students had seemed particularly uncomfortable with the situation. When she intervened, she was spoken to rudely, and her opinion was brushed off as invalid. This account has been substantiated to Pi by other claims of misconduct involving iPads, with many parties describing campaigning as “aggressive”.

The use of electronic devices in this way during UCLU elections has long been a problematic area; in the past candidates have carried their laptops across campus while searching for potential voters, and this is difficult to regulate. However various parties seem to feel that the Union would do well to keep an eye on this, in case inappropriate use of these technologies goes yet further.

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