On Monday, March 24, Pierre Harfouche, unofficial VP university affairs-elect, sent a letter to Provost Cheryl Regehr formally requesting that she intervene in this year’s UTSU elections. Harfouche alleged that the union broke their own bylaws by extending voting hours without approval from the Board of Directors. Earlier today, Jill Matus, vice-provost, students responded on Regehr’s behalf — sending a letter to Munib Sajjad, president of the UTSU.
Matus requested that the UTSU seal and preserve ballot boxes until Harfouche’s complaint has been fully considered, and added that failure to do so “may be seen as failure to operate in an open, accessible and democratic manner under the Policy for Compulsory Non-Academic Incidental Fees.”
Failure to comply with that section of the policy can result in cutting off funds to the union until they begin to operate in what the administration sees as a democratic manner.
Harfouche said that he tried go through the UTSU’s internal complaint process by issuing a formal complaint on March 14, the day voting was extended. Harfouche said he received an email acknowledging receipt of his complaint, but had not heard anything since. He expressed concern that the complaint would not be addressed in time for this Friday’s Board of Directors meeting, during which the elections are scheduled to be ratified. There is no mention of outstanding complaints being considered by the ERC on the agenda for that meeting.
If the elections are ratified, Harfouche said, the ballots will be destroyed, making a recount impossible. The vote counts for executive positions were extremely close, with an unusually high number of spoiled ballots.
Harfouche alleges that the Chief Returning Officer (CRO) Alex Flor and the ERC’s decision to extend voting hours at UTM on March 14, following the early closure of the campus due to severe weather earlier in the voting period, violated UTSU bylaws.
He alleges that, according to the bylaws, the CRO and ERC did not have the authority to change pre-authorized voting days without the approval of the Board of Directors.
Harfouche argued that the bylaw exists in order to give candidates an equal opportunity to campaign, and requested that the UTSU should discount votes gathered at UTM on March 14, or order a new election.
In the letter, Matus writes, “My initial review of the documentation suggests that this is a genuine issue demanding due consideration.”
Aidan Fishman, an undergraduate student governor, expressed concern that the ERC has yet to address the complaints. He said that while the university administration does not have the power to direct whether or not election results are ratified, they can choose to withhold student fees from the UTSU. According to the Policy for Compulsory Non-Academic Incidental Fees, the transfer of student fees from the university to the UTSU is contingent on the UTSU operating in an open, accessible and democratic manner.
“The best way to avoid having the administration meddling in student elections is not to do controversial and possibly illegal things,” said Fishman.
Harfouche and some of Team Unite’s executive slate plan to attend Friday’s Board meeting to formally request that the Board discount the votes from the extra day.
Sajjad was contacted six times, he did not reply to requests for comment.