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The Varsity

The University of Toronto's
Student Newspaper Since 1880

UTMSU forced to redo referendum

January vote used a T-Card scanner from utsu’s November AGM, prompting security questions

By Fatima Syed
Published: 3:00 am, 4 March 2013
Vol CXXXIII, No. 18 under

The results of a referendum establish funding to expand UTM’s Student Centre were deemed invalid when the university found that the wrong voter list was used.

According to the Office of the Vice-Provost, Students, UTMSU used a T-Card scanner containing the data from the utsu’s November AGM, accidentally allowing St. George students to vote in the UTM referendum.

The referendum called for a temporary fee increase over the next three years to fund a $4 million expansion, the cost of which would be split equally between the student union and the university.

The first referendum was approved with 1,368 students of 2,258 full-time students (about 60 per cent of the total vote) voting ‘yes’. Only five per cent of the student population needed to vote in order for the referendum to be valid.

The Medium, UTM’s student newspaper, wrote that the mishap was caused by the chief electoral officer (ceo) — responsible for overseeing the referendum process — and was subsequently “expedited” according to an explanation given by the UTMSU. The error prompted the ceo, Babatumi Sodade, to resign from his position.

The Medium also claimed that the UTMSU attempted to discredit coverage of the referendum, despite the reporters and editors involved confirming the facts and statistics used. The campaign was marked by “confusion” according to one report in the paper.

Vice-provost Jill Matus said that UTMSU requested a password-protected disk containing truncated student numbers for their voter list on January 7, 2013, but the disk was not picked up or used. This is the university’s preferred method of providing personal information for in-person voting.

“When requested, we provide information to student societies in this way, enabling them to verify their membership in order to conduct their business, while at the same time protecting students’ confidential personal information in compliance with provincial protection of privacy legislation,” said Matus.

Matus also said that the T-Card verification system used by UTMSU involves two parts: an online database — owned, operated and controlled by the university, which was first created to quickly verify membership for the sale of discounted ttc Metropasses by the utsu — and an optical card reader that belongs to the utsu. When in use for the UTMSU referendum, the T-Card reader was still loaded with data for the utsu’s November AGM.

“The uploaded voter information was therefore out of date and included St George students,” Matus said, adding that “had UTMSU advised the vice provost, students office in advance, as required, that it wished to use the T-Card reader for voter verification, the correct data for UTM would have been uploaded for the T-Card reader.” utsu’s confidentiality agreement specifies that the use of its date would be limited for the AGM only; hence, the fact that the T-Card reader with the same data was used at the utm referenda constitutes a breach of that confidentiality agreement.

Sandra Hudson, executive director at the utsu, says that the utsu has in no way engaged in any activity that breached its confidentiality agreement, emphasizing that no member of the staff of the utsu executive provided access to the student lists to UTMSU. Hudson added that the T-Card reader is not owned by the utsu but rather by the university, and the union did not have access to the database this year as they did not have the password; the November AGM was instead carried out by manual registration.

According to Hudson, the UTMSU was using the same password and username to access the system as they did in the 2012 election, when in the past the procedure has been to receive a new password with up-to-date information on a monthly basis.

Hudson questions the university’s reliability in administrating online systems and argues that “if each students’ union could manage their own list, there would be no danger that the university administration could accidentally provide this private information to the wrong students’ union.” She hopes to actively pursue this issue of access through greater conversation with the administration.

Matus is working on putting better safeguards in place to ensure that such errors do not happen again when the T-Card reader is used, and that student unions will be involved in the process to ensure a better password system for the T-Card reader. However, Matus does emphasize that “the T-Card reader should not be lent out by utsu to other student unions without written confirmation from the Vice Provost, Student’s office that the appropriate data for the student union in question has been uploaded.” She adds that “it is preferable, however, that, if in-person elections are to be held, student societies use the first method I described — the password protected CD — to verify voter eligibility.”

Political culture at UTM is different from St. George, according to interviews with students. There are no college councils challening the student union, and virtually no one to lead a “no” campaign.

With a strong commuter population, UTMSU has argued that a new student centre would be a welcome addition to the campus. If approved the next time, it would mean that the UTMSU would see a temporary increase of $54 per year for the first three years, as well as a permanent increase of $21 per fall/winter session (including the first three years). This yields a total fee of $100 per year for the first three years and $46 afterwards.

Planning for a second referendum is underway.

  • LB

    And people wonder why the university doesn’t trust UTSU with student information?

  • Hardy Weinberg

    Wasn’t this article posted in the medium like 2 weeks ago? A bit late to the party Varsity. It is obvious someone in this group is not telling the whole story. For those attending the UTSU debate, hold them accountable to this story and if Admin is at fault they need to take them on.