This story has been edited to reflect new information revealed since its initial publication.
Now well over a month since the campaign period ended, the McMaster Students Union finally has an official MSU president-elect: Ikram Farah. Following this year’s race, students may see changes in the Elections Department as they reconsider their current system.
This year’s MSU presidential election saw two disqualifications, something unheard of in the MSU’s history. Candidates Farah and Rabeena Obaidullah were both disqualified.
Both candidates appealed to the highest electoral board, the Electoral Appeals Board, whose decisions are final and binding. According to the declarations released on March 13, the EAB overturned a series of violations for both candidates and reinstated both.
The rationale behind Farah’s disqualification and for both candidates’ reinstatement remains unclear as the MSU has not yet released the minutes from any of these meetings. On March 13, both Obaidullah and Farah were reinstated, resulting in Farah securing the MSU presidency.
On March 11, the Elections Department presented a delegation to the Student Representative Assembly, where they outlined some of their major issues with the current system for electoral appeals and fines.
The two representatives, Shaarujaa Nadarajah and Iku Nwosu, spoke of the difficulties the Elections Department and committee have.
In particular, they highlighted three major issues: limited information, a strict time constraint and lack of perspective as to why certain fines were submitted.
During an election, all MSU presidential candidates are subject to the Elections Department’s rules. If found violating multiple rules, the Elections Department has the power to disqualify a candidate.
According to the meeting minutes from the Election Department’s Jan. 25 meeting, Obaidullah was disqualified for campaigning in private Facebook groups, among other infractions.
The exact reasoning behind Farah’s disqualification remains unclear as the meeting minutes from Election Department’s Feb. 5 meeting have not been released, but according to press releases, two additional violations were ratified at this meeting against Farah, resulting in her disqualification.
During the March 11 SRA meeting, Nadarajah stated that one of the major limitations of the current fines process as the limited information presented to the committee.
Currently, elections committee members are presented all complaint forms the night the voting period ends and are expected to come to a final decision before the night is over.
When it comes to fines, elections committee must decide whether or not to fine a candidate based on a complaint form which they received a few hours prior to the election night meeting.
The form asks the complainant to outline the infraction, tie it to a rule and provide any supplementary evidence along with a witness signature.
Candidates are only informed of their fines following the final decisions. Candidates may contest fines, so long as they announce their intent to appeal a decision within five business days.
“One of the limitations of elections committee is that we can only look at what’s in front of us… a paragraph is describing a situation to us,” Nadarajah said.
In addition, Nadarajah also stressed that the time limit meant the elections committee would be forced to do a cost-benefit analysis of their decisions and ultimately value the quickest decision in order to announce a president-elect before the next morning.
Nadarajah also stated that while the elections committee has eight members, it only needs five to reach quorum, meaning that under certain circumstances only three members are enough to disqualify a candidate.
She also discussed the subjectivity of election committee’s decisions, namely that it is difficult for the election committee to establish when a candidate has impacted the integrity of an election.
They then went over the structure of other student union electoral offices, such as the University of Western Ontario and Queen’s University. UWO uses a demerit system and candidates are informed of any fines throughout the campaign period. At UWO, 30 demerit points automatically results in a disqualification.
At Queen’s, their equivalent elections team is comprised of five others in addition to the Chief Returning Officer and each person has a specific job, whether that be investigating fines or handling finances.
Both Nadarajah and Nwosu stated that the Elections Department may need to mirror some of these systems, whether it follow UWO’s quantitative approach or Queen’s and its delegation of duties.
Nadarajah and Nwosu offered a list of recommendations for reform. They argued they should increase transparency between candidates and their office with respect to fines, increase the threshold within the elections committee to disqualify a candidate from half the committee to two-thirds the committee and better outline and detail the appeals process.
This year’s MSU presidential election and its disqualifications was unprecedented event that may alter the way in which elections are run through the MSU.