Students’ Union responds to claims of “paid” election votes

Election Week 2021
Cardiff University Students' Union: this year's election had the highest voter turnout ever. Credit: Tehreem Sultan
Following Election Week 2021, Cardiff University Students' Union has experienced backlash by offering voters Amazon gift vouchers, with some claiming they had "paid" students to vote by offering the vouchers.

By Tirion Davies | Editor-in-Chief

On March 13, Cardiff University Students’ Union announced its new elected officers, after an Election Week which saw 9,111 votes cast.

The Election turnout was the highest in Cardiff University Students’ Union’s history, surpassing the 2019 record number of 6,690 votes cast.

The most votes were cast in the race for Students’ Union President, with votes cast reaching 7,336 and securing Hannah Doe top spot with a 60% lead, beating her opponent Georgie East.

The race for the Black and Ethnic Minorities Officer spot saw the second-highest voter turnout, with Ashly Alava Garcia gaining 6,827 of the 7,010 votes cast.

What has happened?

Students voting in this year’s Students’ Union Elections were each offered a £5 Amazon gift voucher, receiving a code through their University emails within 24-hours of casting their votes.

Many students considered the voucher an additional incentive to vote, though many said their intention was to vote regardless. Others, however, claimed the Students’ Union had ‘payed’ students to vote by using the vouchers, with some students claiming the record number of votes cast were only as a result of the vouchers.

A spokesperson for Cardiff University Students’ Union responded, saying,

“We don’t believe as many people would have voted without the voucher offer, that’s a significant reason we wanted to provide this as a thank you. Having seen other Students’ Union election turnouts fall, we felt it was essential to protect the legitimacy of our democratic structures and ensure the new Elected Officer team had a strong mandate to lobby Cardiff University in the upcoming year.

“We’re really pleased to report, however, that whilst students have been encouraged to vote, they have still spent time understanding who to vote for and making informed choices.”

Allegations were made by some that by using the Amazon gift vouchers, this year’s Students’ Union Elections was made into a popularity contest, with some candidates referring to the vouchers as part of their campaigns.

The Students’ Union rejects these allegations and notes that although the Amazon vouchers may have been an incentive for some to vote, they saw that the candidate manifestos document available on their website was heavily viewed during Election Week.

Have other Students’ Unions used a similar tactic?

Cardiff University is not the only Students’ Union to have adopted a strategy of offering vouchers during an election week. Coventry University Students’ Union was seen to be offering students several prizes for voting in their elections.

Students who voted would be entered into a prize draw where they could win £20 notes, £10 notes, SkullCandy wireless headphones, a Fitbit, and even a PlayStation 5.

Where did the money come from?

A concern for many students was from where the money to fund these prize draw and vouchers were being sourced. Cardiff University Students’ Union maintains that the budget for the Amazon gift vouchers were covered by the Student Engagement Fund. A spokesperson said that the Student Engagement Fund budget would usually cover activities such as Spring Elections, AGMs and other democratic and campaigning events throughout the academic year, which are unattainable during the pandemic.

The spokesperson said that the budgets of other departments in the Students’ Union were not affected by providing Amazon gift cards to students as part of the election process this year.

Some students have expressed concerns that the vouchers were bought while some societies have seen budget cuts this year, the Students’ Union expressed,

“The Union has made additional funds available to student groups to assist in the funding of community building and welfare-based initiatives, which at present has seen very low uptake.

“We would wholeheartedly encourage student groups with ideas for events or activities they wish to host, to talk to the Union to see what can be made available.”

Cardiff University Students’ Union has highlighted that although vouchers gave students an incentive to vote, overall voter turnout was higher than previously seen, and students were actively researching candidates and manifestos. Clicks onto the

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