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Uncertainty remains after unofficial UTSU elections results announced

Automatic recounts will be held in three close races as some question high number of spoiled ballots
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Unofficial results in the University of Toronto Student Union (UTSU) election show a split executive for next year. Four of five executive positions will be held by members of U of T Voice; Yolen Bollo-Kamara will hold the position of president, with Cameron Wathey as VP internal and services, Grayce Slobodian as VP external, and Najiba Ali Sardar as VP equity.

Pierre Harfouche, of the opposing Team Unite, will hold the position of VP university affairs. Harfouche is set to be the first executive member in eight years who did not run on a slate that included incumbents.

The vote counts for the positions were extremely close. The number of spoiled ballots was at least double the margin of victory for every executive position. Any position won by less than 50 votes is subject to an automatic recount. Recounts will be held for the position of VP university affairs and VP external — Grayce Slobodian won the position of VP external by just 15 votes.

The two slates split the elected seats on the union’s board of directors with independents also claiming some seats. Board elections are subject to an automatic recount if candidates are within 10 votes; Lakisha Ledchumanan won the third seat for the St. Michael College board position by 9 votes, over teammate Bamikuyoro. Unite’s Kevin Lunianga and Shaohua Qui won the hotly contested Arts & Science At-Large positions. Elections for directors to represent UTM are yet to occur.

Some student leaders have raised concerns over the high number of spoiled ballots. “ I don’t understand how thousands of ballots were spoiled,” said Ben Crase, current member of the UTSU board of directors and co-head of Trinity College, “It defies any precedent.”

Current UTSU Arts & Science At-Large director Ben Coleman was present for the ballot counting as a scrutineer, and explained that a spoiled ballot was determined as a ballot that has no candidate selected, more than one candidate selected, or a change in vote visible on the ballot.

Coleman expressed particular concern over the VP external race as independent candidate Luis Moreno’s name appeared on the ballot despite Moreno having withdrawn well before the start of voting and endorsing Team Unite’s Nicky Bhatty. “I know there was a conscious decision made not to reprint ballots due to costs and logistics,” said Coleman. Moreno’s votes counted as spoiled. There were 250 more spoiled ballots for VP external race than in any other executive race. “The amount of ballots that had his name on it is significant enough to effect the result — definitely more than 15, definitely more than 30,” said Coleman.

Corey Scott, campaign manager for Team Voice said that all scrutineers were given the same instructions and access to scrutineer the online and paper ballots. He added that the count included scrutineers for all candidates as well as the elections staff, such as the CRO and DROs, and was held at the UTSU office.

Angelo Gio Mateo*, a scrutineer for Team Unite, had a very different account. “The CRO and DRO’s never told us what constituted a spoiled ballot,” said Gio Mateo. “The CRO and DRO made rulings on the spoiled ballots whenever there was an issue.”

Several questions regarding the last few days of the election remain unanswered. Chief Returning Officer (CRO) Alex Flor extended voting at the Mississauga campus for an extra 5 hours on Friday, March 14, to compensate for the early closing of the campus on Wednesday, March 12 due to severe winter weather. Voting online and at UTSG, which did not close, was not extended. Nicky Bhatty, VP external candidate from Team Unite, raised concerns about the fairness of the vote count as a result of this decision.

For the first three days of voting at UTM polling stations were open at the Instructional Centre and CCIT. On Friday, a polling station was added in the Davis building which Team Unite says they were never told existed and were consequently not able to properly campaign at.

Slobodian however, who is a UTM student, posted on Facebook at 9:36 am encouraging students to come and vote for her at the Davis building.

“Obviously it negatively affected us because we weren’t able to campaign there, but we’ve submitted an appeal to the CRO and we’re just waiting for ruling,” said Bhatty.

As of press time, Flor has not replied to a request for comment.

With files from Iris Robin, Theodore Yan, and Zane Schwartz

Disclosure: Angelo Gio Mateo sits on the board of directors for Varsity Publications.