SFU students are bound to notice some differences come the next annual student society election in contrast to previous years.
The Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) unveiled a new set of elections and referenda policies passed by the previous board of directors last semester. The current board has picked up the work initiated by its predecessor and is making additional updates.
“In our opinion, [the new policies] will resolve the problems that we [faced] in the previous elections policies,” said Erwin Kwok, vice-president of university relations.
The significant number of new additions to the policies will affect many stages of the election process, including all-candidate debates, campaign materials, and disciplinary action when a candidate violates a policy.
The society intends the changes to provide clearer guidelines and resolve past difficulties in the delivery of elections, according to Kwok.
“We are also trying to address the concerns that were brought up by all the different [Independent Electoral Commission] reports, and the feedback from the elections candidates themselves about the issues they faced,” he said.
Following a number of elections with low candidate and member turnouts, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) — the committee responsible for administering society elections — is tasked under the new policies with a number of outreach duties.
The commission will now be responsible for tabling as well as class, student union, and club visits during the nomination and voting period.
There are other aspects of the policies that are meant to free up the time of the commissioners by having staff take care of the background administrative tasks, Kwok mentioned. The hope is that outreach activities will help increase turnout in elections.
It was previously required that all-candidate debates take place at both the Burnaby and Surrey campuses. However, a major change in the policy means that debates will now be held on one of the university’s three campuses.
Hosting a single debate on a chosen campus is intended to increase the overall attendance, according to Kwok.
“We’ve noticed that the society is expending so many resources on hosting [multiple] debates and yet yielding little return — there’s not a lot of turnout,” he explained.
“By virtue of having one debate, [the staff] can focus all concerted effort on one and then that will generate more turnout relative to the three cumulative [debates].”
During the election campaign this year, The Peak noted almost no attendance at the Burnaby and Surrey campus debates. A number of candidates also did not turn out to the session held in Surrey.
The SFSS cut the budget for reimbursement previously allocated to those members who submitted a successful question for referendum.
Previously, the person who submitted a question for referendum was eligible under the policies for a $300 reimbursement for printing costs. The previous board deemed the policy unfair as a referendum involves all students, not just the person who submitted it, noted Kwok.
He said that the SFSS will handle the promotion of the referendum questions.
The society also removed the requirement that the chief commissioner of the elections approve all referendum campaigns. “The IEC can’t and shouldn’t stop members from participating in the referendum process,” Kwok explained.
Though the majority of the criteria around posters and other campaign materials under the former policies remain intact, the society will now provide a template that candidates must use to build their campaign materials.
The template will ensure that campaign materials meet the standards under the policies.
Former policies only stipulated that disciplinary action against candidates who were found to have broken election regulations was at the discretion of the chief commissioner of the IEC.
“There was no consistency,” said Kwok. “Some years you would see commissioners giving out $20 fines on the first [offence], and then another time it is a warning only.”
The new policies specify three levels of disciplinary action for candidates who violate bylaws or policies during an election. For the first offence, the penalty is a written reprimand. The second offence carries a 50% reduction of campaign reimbursement, and the third results in disqualification.
“Now it is just a clear process for administering complaints,” explained Kwok.
Under the earlier policies, the position of ‘chief commissioner’ was appointed for a one-year term beginning in December. The new policies stipulate that the board will determine the term for which the chief commissioner is appointed.
“The flexibility allows the Board to better ensure that the elections are properly administered,” explained Kwok.
The policies also stipulate a process for the submission of a recommendation for the dismissal of the chief commissioner if they fail to meet minimum standards for hosting an election.
While the SFSS intends the changes to improve the delivery of elections, the policies will be re-evaluated if further problems arise. “If these new policies do not address [the issues], we are willing to look into it again,” said Kwok.