After more than a year of divisive debate, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) voted Friday to offer online voting for its upcoming October by-election.
Supporters hope that online voting will make voting more accessible to students. The motion to approve online voting follows three general meetings, a $17,000 lawyer’s report commissioned to study the impact, and a threat from the Provost’s office.
The board approved the recommendations of the Elections and Referendum Committee (ERC) almost unanimously, bringing online voting to UTSU elections this fall. The ERC proposed a motion to limit hours for online voting to 9 am–6 pm, with the intention of ensuring “a fair and secure election process.” The committee’s minutes state that the intention is to prevent candidates from campaigning during late evenings and overnight at social events where alcohol is present. Additionally, the motion is designed to ensure candidates who live on or near campus do not gain an unfair advantage.
Some directors, including arts & science at-large director Benjamin Coleman, who proposed a number of other electoral reforms that were also approved, raised concerns in the minutes. “We have a rule that prevents campaigning in residence during voting, a rule that prevents pressuring someone while they’re voting online, and a rule that prevents campaigning where alcohol is served — it’s a solution for problems that we already have rules for, so I don’t see how it justifies the huge loss of accessibility for students,” said Coleman, who sits on the ERC.
Benjamin Crase, UTSU board member for Trinity College, as well as co-head of the College, was similarly critical: “The purpose of an electoral policy is to account for the changes and elucidate the parameters needed to ensure a continued fair and safe elections process. Currently this motion is only stifling the creation of a more accessible electoral system,” he said. Crase was not able to attend the meeting. Aimee Quenneville, UTSU board member for University College, deputized on his behalf.
UTSU president Munib Sajjad spoke in favour of adopting online voting hours. Sajjad referred to instances of candidates campaigning to residence students during various council and college elections where online voting is used as explanation for the restricted hours.
UTSU vice-president, internal, Cameron Wathey spoke on behalf of the ERC. He confirmed that the executive will work with Simply Voting, a web-based online voting system. Testing of the system is expected to occur next week. Discussions between U of T and the ERC took place in order to ensure that the online voting system meets the university’s requirements for security and logistics. “The university’s involvement has simply been to provide support for implementation with the UTORid system. They have been truly helpful,” said Wathey. Students will be able to vote by logging in with their UTORid.
According to UTSU bylaws, ratifications to the Election Procedure Code may not have sections externalized. The Board of Directors may only send the document back to the ERC for review and revision. This prevents directors from voting on proposals one by one.
Among the electoral code changes approved Friday, the UTSU’s board eliminated the Elections and Referenda Appeals Committee, which used to be the final appeal body for election-related complaints. There will now be a two-step complaints process, with the Chief Returning Officer’s decisions appealable to the Elections and Referenda Committee only. The rules were also changed to standardize costs for common items, so groups of candidates don’t have a financial advantage by purchasing in bulk. Similarly, the reimbursement structure was changed in an attempt to eliminate any financial barriers that may cause candidates not to run.
The election will fill nine positions, including vice-president, external, one of five vice-presidents that are part of the executive committee. The vice-president, external, position requires a by-election because Sana Ali, who ran with this year’s executive in last spring’s election, resigned mid-campaign, citing concerns about the executives’ autonomy. Students can be nominated to run in the upcoming elections at any point before October 4. Voting will take place October 15– 17.