Before going into the strange, inner workings of an election General Assembly (GA), let me explain a little about the UCR Community. UCR has two associations: one organizes social events (RASA) and the other arranges housing matters (HAC). All students are automatically members and, typically, they tend to be critical. Every topic brought to a GA usually results in long, tedious discussions and if it doesn’t, we consider it a pleasant surprise. The one joyous exception to this rule is the election GA. This is where new board members of all four big boards are elected (both HAC and RASA but also Elliott and AAC). Even though it’s usually the longest GA of the year, it’s a rite of passage every board member goes through.
The procedure is as follows, all students enter a large hall and collect their voting ballot (last year, the location was our very own Burgerzaal). Everybody takes a seat and listens to a one minute speech delivered by each person running for a position followed by one question from the audience. It sounds simple but generally lasts between 3 – 4 hours. Usually, a bingo sheet with common speech topics or phrases is distributed before the event. An example of a typical bingo point is: “the student praises last year’s board members”. If that happens during someone’s speech, students generally take a sip of alcohol that they snuck in earlier (though this is, of course, not officially condoned).
Fast forward to a time with corona, and some questions start to arise. How could any online platform possibly facilitate 30 different speeches to 400 students? Where could students possibly cast anonymous votes at the same time? Perhaps the most important question was: how could any online platform foster the community spirit and banter that a physical GA would usually provide?
Well, the short answer is, there wasn’t one. Some creativity and a combination of platforms needed to be used and, looking back, I think we got quite close. Don’t get me wrong, organizing it wasn’t a picnic in the park. It involved countless individual meetings, documentation of new rules and hours of manually typing out UCR email addresses per campus locations because those lists weren’t there. One week before the GA, a messenger group for all interested students was made. This platform could be used for unofficial support and jokes throughout the evening. Three hours before the GA, all students were able to download an unofficial bingo sheet (this time including points such as “they have a poor Wi-Fi connection”). Thirty minutes before the GA, all students received a Zoom Webinar link so they could watch a live-stream from their own rooms and, once the GA was officially opened, all students received an email with a link to an online voting platform.
This time, the evening itself only lasted two hours and the dampened claps at the end of each speech didn’t feel as fulfilling as the screams and whistles we could usually hear in real life. That being said, the smiles, tears and overall positive responses left me with the impression that we got as close as we possibly could have done. So for now: congratulations to all the new big board members of the year 2020-2021. You have been elected in a situation no other big board members have ever been before and for that, you have the upmost respect from all the previously elected board members.