At the latest University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Board of Directors meeting on August 19, a motion for several amendments to the Elections Procedure Code (EPC) — the document that governs the conduct of the union’s elections — was passed. The changes have the potential to dramatically change the face of UTSU politics.
Some of the most notable changes include the elimination of restricted online voting hours, redefinition of the role of non-arm length parties, and additional protocols for cases where a winning candidate is disqualified. It was the new voting system, however, as well as the modification of the role of the Chief Returning Officer’s (CRO) oversight of online campaigning and endorsements that particularly sparked discussion at the meeting.
The system that will be employed is the Wright system, where voters are able to rank their candidates in order of preference, and if one candidate does not receive a majority there is a redistribution of votes based on ranking until a candidate receives a majority and wins.
While the UTSU Elections and Referenda Committee (ERC) is still determining whether or not paper ballots will continue to be used, as they are more difficult to incorporate into the new system, the UTSU has been mandated to advertise the new voting system well in advance of the spring elections.
The board also debated removing the requirement for electronic campaign material and endorsements to be approved by the CRO. Specifically, statements made over social media would no longer require pre-approval. The motion to remove the necessity for CRO-approved material and endorsements passed, but not without some opposition. The motion does not impede the CRO’s power to assign demerit points for material and endorsements that violate the EPC.
Nicholas Grant, Arts & Science at-large director and chair of the UTSU ERC, explained that a common complaint for the past several years of UTSU elections has been the CRO’s turn-around time for responding to approval requests. “Anything that could go wrong is addressed in the demerit system. Individuals are still welcome to run things by the CRO first, but it is not required. The point of this is to address the turnover time.”
Hashim Yussuf, UTM director, objected to the changes to CRO approval requirements. He stated, “There’s nothing wrong with the rules; it’s the CRO that needs to step their game up. I don’t see [why we should] change the rules to ruin the spirit of elections just to remove bureaucracy. I don’t think this is the right way to do this.”
Ben Coleman, UTSU president, stated that: “the issue of timing is [systemic]; it’s been [a problem] every year. I think it’s unnecessary to have pre-approvals. The idea of online media is to boost immediate interaction. And it’s best to have rules to directly affect the problems you’ve got.”
In the midst of the discussion, directors raised the issue of the lack of formal consultation process prior to the ERC drafting the motion that was voted on at the board meeting. Coleman addressed this issue, expressing that there never has been a formal consultation regarding elections in the past, “but that doesn’t mean I believe there shouldn’t be.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated that the UTSU Board of Directors had debated removing the requirement for all election campaign materials and endorsements to be approved by the CRO. This part of the article has been amended to reflect that only the requirement for electronic, non-physical, campaign materials to be pre-approved was debated. Future statements made over social media will not be subject to pre-approval by the CRO. The Varsity regrets the error.