Nov 15, 2018

DUCAC’s Voting System Shows an Organisation in Disarray

DUCAC’s current voting system privileges larger clubs and stifles smaller ones. It cannot be retained, writes Matthew Murphy.

Matthew MurphySenior Editor
Ivan Rakhmanin for The University Times

It is undeniable that there are certain constants to College life, small routines as symbolic of Trinity as the photos of the Campanile that are so beloved by the College’s legions of tourists. These include the yearly pilgrimage to the dance tent at Trinity Ball, the grim retreat to the confines of the Ussher during exam season and – in recent years – the promise of an annual storm of controversy stirred up at the beginning of term by Dublin University Central Athletic Club (DUCAC).

This year’s issue reared its head at DUCAC’s recent AGM, when Diego Coyle Diez, the captain of Dublin University Archery Club (DUAC), attempted to bring a motion to amend DUCAC’s constitution. He proposed a change to the method by which officers are elected to the Executive Committee of the body with responsibility for Trinity’s 50 sports clubs. The current process, whereby all members of DUCAC-affiliated clubs can vote, has been criticised by many as a way of allowing certain “preordained” candidates to be elected due to the tendency of big clubs to bring large numbers of their members to the meetings. Coyle Diez has instead proposed the introduction of a “one club, one vote” system.

From Coyle Diez’s perspective, it’s easy to understand his dissatisfaction with the current system. Given that DUCAC’s voting system is defined by the ability of clubs to bring members and supporters to the AGM, there is a predetermined advantage granted to larger clubs, who can naturally call upon a larger base to ensure their candidates are voted in each year. Some clubs have become particularly politically savvy in their methods when it comes to ensuring that their vote comes out. These techniques range from arranging nights out around the AGM to the strong encouragement of new members to attend. Regardless of the method used, bigger clubs such as Dublin University Boat Club (DUBC) and Dublin University Football Club (DUFC) naturally have much larger constituencies to call upon.


Further, given DUCAC’s dual failure this year to hold its AGM in the first three weeks of term and to post notice of the AGM in Front Arch (as its constitution requires it must), clubs less privy to the organisational decisions of the body appear to have been left in the dark about the AGM’s staging – a further barrier to their ability to have a voice in the election of officers to DUCAC’s Executive Committee.

Most voters fail to engage with the issues raised at DUCAC’s AGM, of which there are no shortage. There is no need to. The voters arrive with their orders, and they carry them out obediently

While some may argue that allowing all members of DUCAC to vote makes the process a more democratic exercise, it’s undeniable that in reality this exercise is a fallacy. Most, if not all, who attend the AGM have been instructed beforehand who to vote for. There is therefore no examination of candidates’ ideas and policies, and their pitch to the audience is largely redundant. Sadly, most voters fail to engage with the issues raised at DUCAC’s AGM, of which there are no shortage. There is no need to. The voters arrive with their orders, and they carry them out obediently.

In addition to this dubious method of electing officers, the failure of this system of voting to encourage even a cursory examination of the candidates’ policy proposals, or understanding of the challenges facing the organisation, is deeply harmful. Beyond testing their ability to address the serious challenges that face DUCAC, such as a persistent deficit and the unhappiness of a multitude of clubs at budgetary allocations (as revealed by this paper), it means that the possibility of previously unexamined problems facing the organisation will not be raised in an open arena, and their meaningful investigation is postponed until the issue matures into a serious problem for DUCAC.

Perhaps the biggest issue with the current system is that it makes it almost impossible to enforce the provisions of DUCAC’s own constitution, which states that only members of DUCAC-affiliated clubs are permitted to vote in officer elections. The key issue with this process is that it is exceptionally difficult to verify who is actually voting in these elections without collecting membership information from the college’s 50 clubs. Since the election of Donagh McDonagh – a former member of Dublin University Boat Club (DUBC) – to the position of DUCAC Chair two years ago, the body has consistently failed to verify who is voting in its elections. In each of the last two elections, journalists from The University Times have been handed voting cards. While I endeavour to avoid falling into the realms of paranoia, this process irrefutably opens the door to vote rigging by clubs.

While Coyle Diez, and his supporters in the upper echelons of the DUCAC’s leadership, appear to be in favour of a “one member, one vote” system, larger clubs do have legitimate concerns that must be addressed

This utter disorganisation in DUCAC’s voting system is disheartening, yet unsurprising. It is emblematic of an organisation that has consistently struggled to address the issues raised by clubs in a timely manner, and, more alarmingly, has failed to communicate to clubs a coherent system of for allocating budgets – as many member clubs have verified when speaking to The University Times.

While Coyle Diez, and his supporters in the upper echelons of the DUCAC’s leadership, appear to be in favour of a “one member, one vote” system, larger clubs do have legitimate concerns that must be addressed. For example, these clubs, by their nature, have more members to represent and when it comes to serious questions such as the allocation of budgets it is hardly absurd to suggest that they should have a larger say in the running of DUCAC – hence their desire to retain the larger electorate and a larger representation on DUCAC’s committee.

In light of the arguments that would surely be raised by the College’s larger clubs, perhaps some form of electoral college based on clubs’ membership is preferable to the proposed “one club, one vote” system. This electoral college would allocate votes proportionally to clubs based on their size and membership. Under this system, Trinity’s smaller clubs would be granted a larger say than they currently have when it comes to the voting in of DUCAC officers, meaning that their concerns are not sidelined by virtue of the fact that they cannot bring as many members to an AGM every year. However, it also ensures that the system acknowledges the larger membership bases of Trinity’s bigger clubs – just not in as obscenely biased a manner as it currently does. This system of voting reduces the disparity between larger and smaller clubs when it comes to their power as a voting block, while allowing larger clubs to retain their position in influencing policy for their members. In short, it strives to strike a balance between fairness and meritocracy in the organising of DUCAC’s resources.

Ultimately, whichever system proposed in this article is favoured by the leadership of DUCAC, it is clear that the current system cannot be retained. It privileges larger clubs and stifles the ability of smaller clubs to make a meaningful contribution to the running of the organisation. As long as the current deeply flawed system is retained, it will remain a symbol of an organisation that has consistently failed to respond to the concerns of its smaller members, as it privileges the whims of its larger clubs over the needs of lesser lights.

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