Directors raised questions about the accessibility of elections at an emergency University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) meeting held on February 15 to announce the dates of its elections.
In particular, directors were concerned about the shortened nomination period this year, which will run from March 11–15. This is about half as long as last year’s nomination period.
Social Sciences Director Joshua Bowman raised concerns about this shortened time frame, but his motion to extend the period narrowly failed. This was in part to accommodate an unspecified levy group seeking to hold a referendum that required it to submit a petition three weeks in advance of elections beginning.
To run in a UTSU election as a representative, students must seek nomination by collecting signatures from UTSU members.
Director candidates must collect at least 25 signatures by students who are UTSU members, and executive candidates must collect at least 100 signatures from their constituency during the election nomination period.
Director says elections should be more accessible, VP says nominations not “supposed to let everyone in”
“I just think that five days is simply not enough for [candidates] to collect signatures,” said Bowman, especially since the UTSU struck down slates at its Annual General Meeting in October. A slate is a group of candidates who run together in an election.
Responding to the concern, President Anne Boucher recognized that the nomination period was shorter, but said that the absence of slates this year should have minimal effects on signature collection.
She also said that “the actual threshold for signatures is quite low,” speaking from personal experience.
“It really only takes really just a few hours if you’re really going at it,” said Boucher. “Otherwise it really only takes a couple days.”
However, Bowman said that the absence of slates will make it harder for candidates to collect their required signatures.
“[If] you’re from a siloed community on campus, and you want to get involved, you have to go out and do all that legwork yourself,” without the assistance of slate members, said Bowman.
He also said the timing of the nomination period during midterm season increases the difficulty of collecting signatures.
Vice-President Operations Tyler Biswurm disagreed, citing personal experience where five to 10 of his signatures were from his slate and acquaintances from his slate, and the remaining votes were “collected within the space of three hours.”
He noted that the nomination period “is not really supposed to let everyone in,” and functions as a screening process.
Bowman disagreed with Biswurm’s portrayal of the nomination period as a “self-selection process,” saying that he thinks that “we need to make the UTSU as accessible as possible.” He recalled Biswurm’s statements at the AGM, when the VP said that “All these people here are insiders, every single one of us… We don’t speak for the normal person. The normal person doesn’t care about the UTSU.”
Bowman continued by saying that they were not making the election “as accessible as it can be,” and therefore not addressing insider culture. He further said that the shortened time frame would make it difficult for commuter students to run.
St. Michael’s College Director Kate Strazds spoke in support of Bowman’s points. She said that “elections can be super, super stressful for some people,” and she believes that the three weeks following the emergency meeting to the nomination period is not sufficient time for the UTSU to advertise the election.
Biswurm reaffirmed that he believes the nomination period should function as a screening process.
He said that the UTSU has already moved to increase accessibility in elections, giving accommodations for campaign funds, and that the subject of insider versus outsider culture doesn’t have “much bearing here.”
Boucher also said it would be difficult to lengthen the nomination period as a levy group had requested a referendum to be added to ballots, but it must submit its petition to the UTSU’s Elections and Referenda Committee (ERC) “three weeks prior” to the start of the nomination period.
Moving the start date of the nomination period earlier would automatically make the levy group’s submission late.
Bowman moves to extend the duration of the nomination period, fails narrowly
Bowman then motioned to push the start date earlier by a week. University College Director Tyler Riches seconded the motion.
Boucher opposed Bowman’s motion, reaffirming that if the start date is pushed earlier, the levy group would automatically be unable to submit their petition on time.
Innis College Director Lucas Granger also spoke against the motion, agreeing with Boucher. “We have been kind of put in a corner by the ERC on this referendum question,” said Granger. “I do not want to see this referendum question fail before it can even start. So unfortunately, we’re stuck.”
Riches noted that, should the motion fail, he hopes that advertising for the elections will be effective enough to counterbalance the shortened nomination period.
Bowman’s motion ultimately failed, with six votes against and five in favour. The three noted abstentions were Vice-President University Affairs Josh Grondin, New College Director Arjun Singh, and Granger.