An emergency meeting involving the UTMSU Board of Directors was held in the Boardroom of the Student Centre on March 31 in order to ratify the results from the recent Student Union election. The meetings agenda also included the ratification of the Chief Returning Officers (CRO) report on the election and the resignation of Election and Referenda Committee (ERC) Chair Saaliha Malik, who is also the outgoing UTMSU vice-president equity.
Her sudden departure casts a shadow over the recent UTMSU elections, which has experienced more than a few problems already; though it is far from clear that any of these inconsistencies would call the actual results into question.
S. Maliks primary complaint stems from the fact that the UTM Movement campaign manager hired the CRO after the original person, Bishoy Dawood, quit right before the election. The second complaint she had was that the new CRO, Omer Galvez, did not actually write the report itself.
Focusing on the CRO report and the practises related to the hiring of the CRO, Board member Marc Bressler, immediately objected to the ratification of the report — and therefore the entire election — on the grounds that they were masquerading an executives report as a CRO report, his claim following from the premise that the CRO was not properly appointed.
Chairman of the board Walied Khogali, a past UTMSU president, ruled that the board could vote on the report. There is no problem with such a hire [by President Wasah Malik] between one Board meeting and another, Khogali stated, citing the UTMSU Constitution section 2G, which states that it is the responsibility of the ERC to hire the CRO and can do so independently if there is no time before an election.
Whether or not outgoing UTMSU president Wasah Malik was faced with a conflict of interest through his various roles, or whether this violates any constitutional rules, was not resolved at the meeting. His initial membership of the ERC board where he was responsible for hiring a new CRO, might be seen as questionable when later on he resigned from the ERC to serve as campaign manager for the UTM Movement ticket, the only team running in the election. In addition to that, his voting and proxy (for Board member Sarah Ali) during the ratification meeting also raised several questions between other members on both the executive board and the Board of Directors.
It seems to be a trend that the president of UTMSU takes on the role of campaign manager of a team running the subsequent year, noted ex-ERC Chair S. Malik. Perhaps changing the membership of the Elections and Referenda Committee would avoid this conflict in the future. The CRO report, written by her, contains several recommendations for the board to consider, including changes to the CRO hiring policy.
During the meeting, Bressler called for Chair Khogali to ask the ERC Chair if she thought the election process was fair. What part of it? she asked. I had to do the CROs work; that wasnt fair. In the end, the board voted on the CRO report and the election results — by secret ballot — and ratified both, despite the objections of S. Malik and Bressler.
It is worth noting that the executives from UTM Movement, who also serve on the UTMSU Board of Directors, abstained from voting only when reminded to do so. Furthermore, although W. Malik maintains that he did not vote himself, he did vote on his proxys behalf.
Part Two: UTSU at UTM
According to the University of Toronto Student Union (UTSU — St. George) constitution, at least two meetings per year must be held at the UTM campus. As such, the decision to hold the first and only meeting of the year in the Student Centre Boardroom on April 2 was seen by some with suspicion, especially among supporters — and defeated candidates — of the UofT Change team.
After year-end reports were delivered by the outgoing UTSU executives, the meeting quickly came to a standstill. Seizing on errors made in the calculation of votes within the CRO report, U of T Change candidate Jason Marin and his associates spent the next four hours citing inconsistencies contained in the report, particularly the unusually high number of UTM student voters identified in it.
According to the UTSU CRO report, the only group of students that fits this description [of being non-St. George voters] and is eligible to vote in this election are students from UTM, and this category shows 1,549 voters. However, this calculation does not appear to take into account spoiled ballots, since no mention is made of them in any of these tables. Although the CRO report is indeed flawed, the irregularity of so many UTM students voting at St. George would seem to be an error as well.
Thus the entire basis of the argument presented by UofT Change candidates — mainly that it is statistically impossible for so many UTM students to have voted — disintegrated into implied suggestions of fraud and conspiracy. It is highly unlikely, but twelve buses running over three days could easily carry 2,500 students, defeated VP Internal candidate Mike Maher speculated, and this is suspiciously close to the number that voted at St. George [from UTM].
Clearly taking offense to such veiled accusations of impropriety, former UTMSU president Walied Khogali (voting as proxy) stated that the number was an anomaly. UTM students take the shuttle bus, and UTM generally has higher voter turnout than St. George, he commented. Outgoing UTMSU VP External Dhananjai Kohli pointed out that over ten per cent of students at UTM identify their home as being St. George. It was an aggressive campaign; what is wrong with UTM students voting? Kohli asked, So what?
These rebuttals were met by further opposition from UofT Change candidates and supporters, who continued to insist that the problems in the CRO called the entire process in question, and should therefore be overturned for the sake of transparency. Miscalculations of results certainly merit the board refusing to ratify this election, declared defeated presidential candidate Jason Marin. These numbers should add up: they dont. Students who voted should be able to trust the voting process, he said at the meeting.
Such comments and objections were continually overruled by Speaker of the Board Josh Rubin, who repeatedly noted that the board was not meeting to speculate on results, and that any complaints should have been properly lodged, appealed and resolved through due process. His efforts to advance the agenda were in vain, as the same questions were raised again and again by the same small group of dissenters.
Nothing we are looking at here allows us to even discuss throwing out this election, a clearly exasperated Khogali insisted. Elections are never perfect; sometimes a CRO is competent, sometimes not. These elections were fair, no provisions were violated, so lets move on, he concluded, supporting a motion to vote on the CRO report.
In the end, both the CRO report and election results were ratified, though Kohli was unhappy with the insinuations that were made at the meeting. If certain individuals felt that they had conclusive proof to demonstrate that [fraud] is possible, they would have said something: they did not, he said afterward. They tried to imply some wrongdoings, while never coming out and saying that they felt this way.