Hello UofT took all but one of the executive positions in the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) spring elections. Competing against them were the 1UofT slate and one independent candidate for vice president, campus life.
Both slates campaigned for improvements to services such as the UTSU’s health and dental plan and U of T’s health and wellness services. All candidates agreed that they would work towards creating a safer and more inclusive campus should they be elected. According to president-elect Jasmine Wong Denike from Hello UofT, her immediate goal is to spearhead tuition fee caps, as the deadline for their expiration in 2017 nears.
Election results and statistics
Of the 50,113 eligible voters, a total of 4,871 votes were cast. Voter turnout was 9.7 per cent, which was a 3.3 per cent drop from last year’s 13 per cent turnout.
Denike is currently the union’s vice president, external. She emerged victorious with 2,000 votes, while 1UofT’s Madina Siddiqui received 1,540 votes.
Shawn Williams ran for vice president, university affairs with Hello UofT and was elected to the position with 1,822 votes. 1UofT’s Andy Edem, who was formerly an independent candidate, received 1,432 votes.
Hello UofT’s Farah Noori will fill the vice president, equity role. Noori received 1,728 votes to 1UofT’s Malkeet Sandhu’s 1,307 votes.
Shahin Imtiaz of Hello UofT will serve as the next vice president, campus life, with 1,489 voters ranking her as their first choice. 1UofT’s Lera Nwineh placed second and received 1,070 votes, while independent candidate and current vice president, campus life Alessia Rodríguez placed third with 834 votes. This is the first time that the vice president, campus life has been an elected position.
Ryan Gomes, the current UTSU vice president, internal & services, ran with Hello UofT to be the first-ever president, professional faculties. Gomes’ 553 votes put him ahead of Charlotte Mengxi Shen, who managed to secure 319 votes.
The contest for the position of vice president, external was the closest of any of the races. Hello UofT’s Lucinda Qu narrowly defeated Andre Fast of 1UofT by a margin of 18 votes, winning 1,648 votes to Fast’s 1,630.
1UofT candidate Carina Zhang won vice president, internal & services by 37 votes over Hello UofT’s Mathias Memmel. Zhang received 1,777 votes to Memmel’s 1,740 votes and was the only 1UofT member to win an executive position.
The UTSU’s Elections Procedures Code (EPC) states executive candidate elections that result in a victory by a margin of up to 50 votes will automatically be recounted.
The abstention rate for executive candidate elections ranged between 27 and 38 per cent.
Only three paper ballots were cast; two of those ballots were test ballots. Online voting was offered in person at a polling station, meaning paper ballots had to be specifically requested.
Vere-Marie Khan, chair of the Elections & Referenda Committee, stated that paper ballots were heavily underused due to the advent of online voting.
“[We] made every effort to ensure that laptops at our polling stations were as accessible as possible,” Khan said. “I think the future of paper ballots is that there is none.”
Khan hopes that paper ballots will become obsolete. “Personally, I am glad for this step as paper ballots are sustainably not feasible and are an additional cost factor to the union (therefore students as well),” she said.
This was also the first time that the UTSU elections were conducted using the single-transferable vote, a voting system in which voters rank candidates by order of preference. Prior to this year, the elections used the first-past-the-post system.
The campaign period
The 10 day campaign period saw numerous controversies and a spate of demerit points issued to both slates, much the same as in previous UTSU elections. The in-person campaign period was shorter this year than in previous years, and reforms to the EPC banned in-person campaigning on voting days. Candidates were still permitted to campaign online.
There were a total of 16 rulings by the chief returning officer (CRO) and six rulings by the Elections and Referenda Committee (ERC).
During the executive debate, Edem misgendered Williams. Edem immediately offered an apology, which Williams found to be unsatisfactory, calling it “long and mostly devoid of substance” in a public Facebook post. Four days after the debate, 1UofT released a statement in response.
Despite the mixed executive, Denike does not believe the election of Zhang will be an issue for the new team.
“Carina, like the rest of us, ran because she wants to make U of T better,” Denike said. “Anyone putting themselves forward for a position like this, on a student union executive, needs to be prepared to work under any circumstance… I hope to get the chance to talk with her about what she wants to accomplish and hopefully find ways to incorporate that into our vision as well.”
“I also want to ensure that all of the executives are comfortable and ready to get to work. This would include having a proper transition from their predecessors, being prepared for the kind of year they have ahead, and knowing that we’re a team,” said Denike.
“We’re all so proud of Carina! She worked so hard and we could not imagine anyone better for the role of VP internal,” said Siddiqui. “I look forward to working with her in this new role and all of the great things that she will do this year,” she added.
This is not the first time that the UTSU elections have produced a mixed executive. In 2014, Pierre Harfouche, who ran for vice president, university affairs, was the only elected executive candidate from team Unite. Harfouche ultimately resigned in the following November.
“Slates don’t exist anymore,” Denike said. “We’re here because students voted for us to be here, and that’s what matters. We should be listening to what they have to say — if we’re doing a good or awful job — and being prepared to prioritize the representation of marginalized groups on campus who may feel ostracized by not only their peers, but the UTSU. Mending that relationship is one of my top priorities.”