Students stopped what was called an “outlandish and draconian” election procedure last night at a Governing Council University Affairs board meeting.
Under the proposed system, student candidates for positions on the university’s top board whose campaigning methods were deemed outside of the regulations would lose a number of votes come election day. The number of votes lost would be based on how many demerit points they received. Extension of web-based voting to graduate student elections was also recommended.
“If you’re aware of the issue it actually is possible to make a difference, but you have to be aware of what’s going on and many students don’t know what governing council is or does,” said Agata Durcalec, the Student Administrative Council’s university affairs commissioner. The Governing Council is the body that approves all major decisions at U of T, including budgets, tuition fees and policies about donations and honorary degrees. Although most of the representatives on the board are appointed by the government or university administration, there are a number elected by the student body and by university faculty to represent those constituencies.
Former student representative for governing council Elan Ohayan called the penalty suggestion “outlandish and draconian.” SAC shared his concerns. For SAC elections there is a demerit point system; however, it is tied to financial penalties, not votes.
Students from the Canadian Federation of Students, the Graduate Student Union, the Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students and SAC spoke against the proposal and eventually turned the meeting to a unanimous vote against it.
Andrew Morgan, the undergraduate Arts and Science representative on Governing Council, brought the idea forward, and believes that dollar penalties mean “it would be possible to buy an election if one has the resources.”
The usage of vote penalties is more legitimate than fines, says Morgan.
Ohayan believes the solution lies in the elimination of all penalties. He suggested that elections need to “open up the field of expression,” and that the vote penalty proposal amounts to “institutionalized vote tampering.” Instead, the elections committee ought to “rely on candidates’ goodwill […] and let the voters decide.”
Another concern is the web-based voting system. Already in use for SAC elections, the governing council would like to see graduate student elections held electronically.
A source who is very familiar with the web voting system at U of T suggests that privacy may be compromised by the system, claiming to be aware of a list generated that linked student numbers to actual votes. Governing Council vehemently denies the suggestion that voting might be tracked, maintaining that there is “absolutely no way to know who voted for whom.”
The U of T Act, a regulatory set of guidelines for U of T staff and students, states “elections shall be by secret ballot and no person shall be eligible to cast more than one ballot.” These allegations make the election procedures’ compliance with the act appear questionable.
Ohayan also questions the web based voting system, voicing concerns with issues of accountability, cultural accessibility and security. The suggestion that paper ballots should be available for those uncomfortable with online voting has been put forth and rejected by council.With regard to the proposed procedural changes, Oke states that these guidelines have been suggested with the “intention to make the whole elections process as fair and equitable as possible.”