Student concerns after presidential acclamation lead to SRA review of elections bylaws
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The Student Representative Assembly has been discussing possible changes to Bylaw 7/A, which outlines the electoral procedures of McMaster Student Union electoral at-large elections. The change could add a vote of confidence to the procedure instead of acclamation.
The MSU’s president-elect for 2021/2022 was recently acclaimed. Bylaw 7/A outlines the procedures for acclamation: “If the number of valid nomination forms submitted is fewer than or equal to the number of available positions, the [Chief Returning Officer] shall declare all nominees duly elected by acclamation.”
Nominees in this circumstance are automatically acclaimed to the position, as there is no vote of confidence available to the student body. The bylaw applies to candidates for SRA, MSU presidential and MSU First-Year Council elections.
In response to the presidential acclamation, the first in at least 40 years, the MSU Board of Directors tasked the SRA Internal Governance Committee to do a review of Bylaw 7/A. The IG committee has completed research on the bylaw and will propose updates at the March 7, 2021 SRA meeting.
Over the past month, general students and SRA members have expressed interest and thoughts on what the changes should look like, including the implementation of a vote of confidence for would-be acclaimed seats.
To specify what this vote of confidence would look like, SRA representatives conducted polls on social media within their faculties to collect data. Most SRA representatives asked students to identify whether a vote of confidence should be implemented, who the vote of confidence would apply to, who the vote of confidence electorate should be and which elections the vote of confidence should apply to and in which circumstances.
Considerations included whether the student body at-large or the SRA, whether it be the incoming or outgoing group, should take the vote of confidence. Further, some SRA members proposed a vote of confidence from the outgoing SRA for each incoming SRA member, including those elected by the student body.
The SRA caucus data results were presented at the Feb. 21 meeting. While each caucus had slightly different results, the majority reported a favour in adding a vote of confidence for MSU presidential elections.
There was a mixed consensus from all faculties on having a vote of confidence on SRA and First-Year Council elections, as well as whether the student body or SRA should be taking part in the vote of confidence.
In the meeting, SRA Social Sciences caucus members explained how some students’ concerns from the data indicated that they should be given more power in the vote of confidence, especially as a step towards building more trust with MSU. This data was collected by a Google Form that was circulated in Avenue groups and social media posts.
25 students responded to the survey. For the results, 84.6% of students wanted there to be a vote of confidence. Out of those who voted, 100% wanted students to have that vote. 50% of students said all elections (would-be-acclaimed and those with a surplus of candidates) should have a vote of confidence, 25% said they did not know, and 25% said they only wanted would-be-acclaimed ones.
Moreover, 83.3% of students said all elections that fall under that Bylaw (SRA, MSU President, and FYC) should have a vote of confidence, and 16.7% said only the MSU President should have a vote of confidence.
There was also a large concern from SRA Social Sciences members about potential conflict of interests with those running in elections.
These concerns were echoed by the McMaster Political Science Students Association, who worried that the change would require any incoming SRA member, including those elected by the student body, to undergo a vote of confidence by the outgoing SRA members.
“There was a universal push back [within our association] against [this] sort of move. We believe that the student voices should remain to the students and that it shouldn’t be taken out from them in any capacity,” said Gurwinder Sidhu, MPSSA president.
The MPSSA has started a petition, which all MSU members can sign, against the suggestion of outgoing SRA members conducting a vote of confidence on the incoming SRA members, both elected and acclaimed.
The form states the association’s concern that these vote of confidence changes will compromise student democracy by giving the current SRA members the power to determine the members of the assembly, regardless of student votes.
“The key thing here is that people need to pay attention to what the student government is doing, because at the end of day, this affects them more broadly,” emphasized Sidhu.
During the Feb. 21 meeting, MSU President Da-Ré clarified to all SRA members that the discussion was not about SRA vetoing someone that was chosen by the student body, emphasizing that this would be very undemocratic. He explained that the voting body cannot change. For positions elected by students, such as SRA members, the voting body would remain students.
The SRA has forwarded the student data to the SRA IG committee for further analysis and interpretation, in addition to their committee research. The IG committee has put forward their proposed changes to Bylaw 7/A along with a memo to summarize and explain the amendments.
Notably, the amendments propose a student body vote of confidence. The changes will be debated and likely voted on at the March 7 SRA meeting.
“We [SRA Internal Governance Committee] are suggesting a Vote of Confidence for FYC, SRA and Presidential Elections when the number of candidates is less than or equal to the number of positions available. The vote of confidence will be conducted by the student body where there would have previously been an acclamation,” wrote Associate Vice-President (Internal Governance) Michelle Brown in the memo.
According to the SRA discussion in the Feb. 21 meeting, there cannot be any bylaw changes made to the upcoming SRA elections. However, these could be implemented in the next election cycle.
Prior to the March 7 meeting and likely vote, MPSSA plans to continue their advocacy with their petition and by reaching out to other McMaster clubs and organizations for support. They are also currently in touch with SRA members to encourage them to vote against any changes that would compromise students’ democracy.
“I have good faith that this will be solved in an adequate manner… only time can tell that,” said Sidhu.
The Silhouette will continue to follow this story. For an in-depth explanation of the 2021 Presidential Acclamation and Bylaw 7/A amendment procedures, read: “The election that wasn’t: MSU president acclaimed.”