Written by Corbett Gildersleve, SFU Alumnus
In last week’s article, I talked about the SFSS 2018 Election Report and some concerns I had with it. Included in that report were eight recommendations for ways to improve future SFSS elections. However, the independent electoral commissioner’s (IEC) recommendations don’t always make sense without further information and context. This information would normally be included in two other sections of the election report — sections which are absent from the 2018 report. However, even without those sections, many of the recommendations touch on important issues with SFSS elections. Here, I will be talking about recommendations 3–8, with the IEC’s recommendations paraphrased and followed by my own commentary. (Check out the online version for my commentary on recommendations 3, 6, and 8. Let’s dig in!
Recommendation 3: The IEC’s working hours
Issue: The IEC had to work extra hours due to demand.
IEC Recommendation: No IEC member should work more than 15 hours per week, and the limits this places on how much the IEC can do in a given timeframe should be communicated to candidates.
Corbett’s Commentary: Since this report does not list the expenses, it’s hard to know how excessive the hours were in total. But the hours worked by an IEC and the amount of pay required to match the time worked is directly related to how long the elections cycle can run, because the longer it runs, the more work the IEC has to do and the more expensive it gets to pay them.
In any case, the fact that our elections happen during March in the lead up to final projects and tests probably causes more harm than good. The IEC is made up of students too and they also have academic commitments. I’d rather have the election period be more spread out than this “just get it over with” system we have now, or alternatively, the entire election could happen before reading break when students have more time for these things. Those that win would then have two months to shadow the current board and receive training before they take over.
Recommendation 4: Over reliance on the Communications Office and Copy Centre
Issue: The Communications Officer and the Copy Centre were overworked during the election, in the former’s case because they assumed roles and duties that the IEC should have taken.
IEC Recommendation: The IEC should handle more of the election-based tasks such as social media and bookings, and the candidates should send in their campaign materials by or before the last Friday of the nomination period.
Corbett’s Commentary: The main takeaway from the elections policies that were passed on April 24, 2017, was that it makes staff handle a lot of the heavy lifting. You can read about my views on this in a previous Peak article.
In the past, the IEC did handle the majority of the elections work from advertising, outreach, room bookings, and even running some of the AV equipment. I can’t see the SFSS accepting the IEC recommendation as they’d have to rollback a bunch of policies.
As for the Copy Centre working overtime to meet candidates’ printing requests, that’s nothing new. It’s not acceptable, but when you have over 30 people each wanting to get hundreds of posters printed in a very short span of time, it puts an undue burden on the staff and system. As an aside, the by-law reform attempt in 2017 would have added at least another 20–30 people running for Council seats, assuming at least two people ran for each of the 15–20 available positions. Imagine all the posters, debates, etc. that that would have added onto everyone’s plates.
It might make more sense to have a prep period between nominations and campaign periods to give everyone time to work on their campaign materials, which would include answering questions about their platform. This benefits not only the candidates but also the students who are interested in the election. Ideally, this would allow everyone to be on equal footing at the start of the campaign period.
Recommendation 5: Slates
Issue: The IEC “erroneously” allowed slates, resulting in a “toxic electoral atmosphere.”
IEC Recommendation: Candidates should be forbidden from forming slates.
Corbett’s Commentary: Is this the IEC’s first time paying attention to an election? It feels like they have a very specific expectation on how elections should happen and how people should act in them. However, that expectation doesn’t match our history.
People make elections toxic and dirty regardless of whether they organize themselves into slates or not. Elections during the periods where slates were banned had issues too. The IEC didn’t make an error in permitting slates. Slates are not banned in the election policies (they’re barely mentioned) and the IEC doesn’t have the authority to just make up new policies, merely recommend policy changes to the board after each election/referendum.
Recommendation 6: Infractions and Campaign Expense Limits
Issue: There’s no way for the IEC to enforce monetary infractions on candidates who do not provide their receipts and/or only spend money on printing.
IEC Recommendation: Monetary Infractions should be eliminated, and Campaign Expense Limits policies must be re-evaluated to solve this issue as the current IEC has no solution to this dilemma.
Corbett’s Commentary: Financial penalties are unenforceable in a number of ways, and it’s been like that for a long time. Read the 2015 and 2016 election reports to get an idea of the challenges surrounding this issue. I don’t believe the SFSS can assign fines through goSFU without an agreement with SFU. The general office can also only do so much if the fined candidate lost the election. So, why do we have these fines? The SFSS by-laws require them.
The by-laws restrict each candidate’s budget to only $50 on campaign materials, (as seen in by-law 15-14) and that all printing must be done at the SFSS Copy Center. The IEC can issue up to a $100 fine for violating the by-laws or election/referendum rules, as per by-law 15-8. But in the world of social and digital media, why bother spending money on posters?
Future election by-law and policy reform will need to tackle things like in-kind donations, volunteer campaign teams, and endorsements from alumni and other stakeholders.
Recommendation 7: Endorsements
Issue: Candidate endorsements “ran amok in the elections cycle,” despite being “highly unethical,” and the IEC received a large number of complaints about them.
IEC Recommendation: The IEC should pay no attention to candidate endorsements, since the IEC has no obligation to “protect the reputation of the SFSS.”
Corbett’s Commentary: It’s not the IEC’s job to protect the reputation of the SFSS but rather to run the elections as fairly as they can. However, it’s unclear why endorsements are “highly unethical” and that they “ran amok in the election cycle”.
It would be nice if every student spent the time to look into each candidate and make an informed individual choice, but that’s not reality. You could make an argument that board members should not make endorsements, both because they are in a position of power during the election and because it could be a conflict of interest. But they are also students, and therefore have a right to engage in the political process. How do you balance those two issues?
Recommendation 8: Candidate Nomination
Issue: Various candidates’ behavior toward each other and the IEC which include harrassment, slander, sexual harassment, bullying, etc.
IEC Recommendation: “Like any other job posting,” candidates should have to provide three “academic, work, volunteer or character references” before they can run.
Corbett’s Commentary: The IEC recommends that each candidate submit three references as part of their nomination. I assume this is to help weed out candidates with “antisocial behavior.” It might work, but there are many bad people out there, and I bet all of them had great references.
The greater problem is that the IEC is not well-equipped to investigate and handle a whole range of issues including accusations of harassment, slander, sexual harassment, bullying, etc. during an election. I have no meaningful recommendations, as I’m not knowledgeable enough in this area, but a discussion needs to be had on this topic.
These are my takes on the recommendations. Some make sense, some can’t be implemented, and others will probably just be ignored. That’s the SFSS, regardless of which board is in power.