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High spoiled ballot count in SCSU elections due to scrutineer error, paper ballots

CRO report criticizes efforts to disqualify other candidates through demerit points
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Two scrutineers determine whether ballots are spoiled.SOFIA LUDWIG/THE VARSITY
Two scrutineers determine whether ballots are spoiled.SOFIA LUDWIG/THE VARSITY

The results of the 2020 Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) elections, in which executive positions were almost all claimed by the VISION UTSC slate, saw the amount of spoiled ballots in executive elections more than double from last year. The Chief Returning Officer (CRO) report found that the number of spoiled ballots was “artificially [inflated]” by ballots that were submitted last-minute and had errors, resulting in them being spoiled. In this situation, voters were given new ballots, and the number of votes did not change.

The elections also saw automatic recounts triggered for three executive positions due to close margins between candidates.

Spoiled ballots

The SCSU elections are done on paper, leaving room for human error and spoiled ballots. The ballots are counted by two scrutineers who are responsible for determining which ballots are spoiled.

The number of spoiled ballots was greater than or equal to the winning margins in 10 out of 21 elections. There were more spoiled ballots than the winning margin in five out of six executive elections — all positions except president.

The quantity of spoiled ballots was much higher in the 2020 elections than that of 2019. The average amount of spoiled ballots for executive positions in 2020 was 203. In 2019, that number was 96.

Current SCSU Vice-President Operations Rayyan Alibux said that a ballot could be spoiled if a check mark strayed into the box of another candidate. If there was any doubt about who was being voted for, the ballot would be thrown out. In addition, Alibux said he is looking into the possibility that one of the scrutineers this year forgot to sign some ballots, which require signatures from both scrutineers, resulting in more ballots being thrown out. The Varsity was not able to confirm either claim.

When asked if he thought there were too many spoiled ballots, Alibux said, “Always — it’s ridiculous.”

Alibux alleged that when he ran, one of the scrutineers left early, resulting in many spoiled ballots.

He expressed frustration with the system and said that he will be moving motions at the next Annual General Meeting to move all voting to online, both for elections and for policy changes. Alibux had previously tried to pass online voting in the election at the 2019 general meeting, but was unsuccessful.

He noted that the SCSU did work on outreach to get a higher voter turnout, and added, “I think the voting period could be longer.” This year, the voting period ran from February 11–13.

Demerit points

A number of general issues were raised by the CRO about the atmosphere of the elections, mostly stemming from the past use of demerit points in the elections. Six candidates, in addition to the entire WENITED slate, received demerit points during the election.

Each WENITED candidate received four demerit points for “unregistered campaigner, improper distribution of campaign material, [and] campaigning with opponent on the ballot.”

The winner of the presidential election, Sarah Mohamed from the VISION UTSC slate, had three demerit points for a poster that was placed in a way that prevented the other team from postering.

The CRO found that “by far the most substantial and glaring issue was the consistently staggering volume of allegations of violations that I received from candidates.” Because demerit points could only be given with clear evidence, “Some candidates and volunteers subjected others to virtually constant video surveillance.” The report identified this as creating an unhealthy and uncomfortable environment.

“The way in which demerit points were allocated and distributed in the past has produced an environment in which candidates are incentivized to attempt to win elections by directing their energy towards getting their opponents disqualified rather than focusing on on-the-ground campaigning and turning out the vote.”

He also wrote that the vagueness of the Elections Procedure Code led to candidates “making outrageous claims, exaggerating minor incidents, and attempting to bend rules as far as possible in their direction.”