HOW to vote in the UCU NEC elections

Michael Abberton
4 min readJan 28, 2023

This is about HOW to vote using the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system, not WHO to vote for.

Mock STV ballot paper

For transparency, I am the Cambridge University UCU Branch President, but I am writing this blog in a personal capacity and the views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the branch.

Election time is upon us once again with a plethora of candidates for National Executive Committee (NEC) and associated positions standing on variety of manifestos. This blog is not about who to vote for, but HOW to vote using the STV system — if you don’t know how the system works, you could be voting for a candidate that you do not support.

The UCU website says, “Voters are asked to rank candidates in order of preference (1, 2, 3, etc.) until they can no longer express a preference.” But what does this mean? Does it mean that I have to rank all the candidates and fill every box on the ballot? Do I have to vote in the election for every position?

The simple answer to this question is no. Where the UCU instruction says until they can no longer express a preference I would take that to mean that if you would not prefer a certain candidate to get a vote — you should not list them. Don’t forget, in this system if you write a number — any number — next to candidate’s name on the ballot — they potentially get a vote.

On the Electoral Reform Society website, it says this, “Voters can put numbers next to as many or as few candidates as they like.” If you only have three preferred candidates, then only put 1, 2, and 3 into the table. If you only support one candidate from a list of eight, for example, then ONLY put 1 next to their name and leave the others blank.

Isn’t this breaking the system? I would argue that it is not. Every voter has only one vote but knowing how STV works means that you can control how that vote is used.

The Single Transferable Vote (STV) system is a type of proportional representation used in some elections, such as local government elections in Ireland and Australia. It is different from the traditional “first past the post” system we are used to in the UK, where voters choose one candidate and the candidate with the most votes wins. STV allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference. If a candidate does not receive enough votes to be elected, their votes are transferred to the next preferred candidate. This continues until all seats are filled.

Every position has a baseline quota of 1st Preference votes to reach in order to be elected. If a candidate meets that quota on the first round, they are elected. If the quota is not met and the post remains open, this could mean that despite one candidate getting many more 1st Preference votes, the 2nd Preference could then be elected, because if no candidate meets the quota, then the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated and their preference votes are redistributed. This would be repeated into another round until the post is filled. There are different systems for how the redistribution works but essentially they are doing the same thing.

But how does this actually work? To quote Michael Otsuka:

Since there’s only 1 post to fill in the GS election, if Jo Grady meets the quota of 1st preference votes in the 1st round, she’s elected, and that’s the end of the story. There would be no point in transferring her 2nd preference votes, since there’s no further post to fill.

The only scenario in which Jo Grady’s 2nd preference votes could be transferred in this GS election is one in which she’s not elected in the 1st round & comes last in a subsequent round. In this case, she’d be eliminated & her 2nd preference votes transferred.

If, therefore, you agree with @UCUDemocracy (as I do) that Blake is preferable to McGaughey and Weiner, & Grady is your 1st preference, you do her no favours by failing to list Blake 2nd. The only role a 2nd preference for Blake could play is in electing her over McGaughey and Weiner in the event that Grady is eliminated.

So be careful when you vote — but by all means do use your vote. To get the most out of the election, there are a few things you can do:

  • Research the candidates: learn about the candidates running in the election and their positions on the issues that matter to you. This will help you make an informed decision when ranking them.
  • Be strategic: Think about the chances of your first choice candidate winning and how your vote will transfer to your next choices.
  • Vote for a range of preferred candidates — don’t list those who you think should not get a vote. At the same time, look seriously at second and third choices if available for each post.
  • Encourage others to vote: Get your friends and colleagues to vote, and educate them on the STV system if they are not familiar with it.

Get voting!

(corrected 27/1/24 thanks to Michael Otsuka thread on X https://x.com/MikeOtsuka/status/1751201238337683663?s=20)

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Michael Abberton

Tomahawk thrower, writer, trade unionist, Japanese speaker and all around good guy.