MSU president-elect acclaimed for the first time in at least 40 years
For the first time in at least 40 years, the McMaster Students Union president-elect has been acclaimed. At the end of the 2021 nomination period, MSU Elections received only one candidate and Denver Della-Vedova became MSU president-elect.
According to Silhouette archives, an average of 6 candidates per year have ran for the presidential position from 1990 to 2000. Notably, the 1994 election had 12 candidates. General Manager John McGowan, who has been with the MSU since February 2002, is not aware of a president ever being acclaimed.
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“We’re not getting a choice in a president that definitely has power and is getting a paycheck on our dime. So I just need to know why is this happening, why didn’t [the MSU] do a better job of advertising and actually, in particular, why didn’t they just extend the deadline?,” said Badran.
The end of the extended nomination period came on Jan. 21. According to MSU Chief Returning Officer, Hargun Grewal, the nomination period was extended to match the extended winter break and to ensure students had the opportunity to run.
With one candidate, Bylaw 7/A section 3.3.1 was enforced. “If the number of valid nomination forms submitted is fewer than or equal to the number of available positions, the CRO shall declare all nominees duly elected by acclamation.”
The MSU Elections department is responsible for upholding and enforcing the elections bylaws of the MSU, including 7/A. They act as impartial arbiters to ensure that elections are run in a fair and transparent manner as the bylaws outline.
Badran felt that there was a lack of communication from the MSU about these procedures, including the possibility of an acclamation and about the election itself.
Current MSU President Giancarlo Da-Ré discussed the result and the bylaw that dictated it.
“What we have seen this year is the impact of an acclamation of the MSU president. Evidently there are some students that feel that they did not get to know the candidate before the results were announced, which I think is a fair concern to have, a fair frustration from students,” said Da-Ré.
The bylaws that govern the MSU and its elections are subject to change. According to MSU Associate Vice-President: Internal Governance, Michelle Brown, the Board of Directors have tasked her and the Internal Governance Committee to do a review on bylaw 7/A.
“I think it [the acclamation] warrants a discussion at the [Student Representative Assembly] level where we can follow our normal democractic processes. I know that the Internal Governance Committee is aware of these frustrations from other students and as they do with other policies and bylaws throughout the year, they’re looking into bylaw 7/A to see if this is something that should come to SRA. I definitely think that it’s something that can come to SRA for discussion, debate and I look forward to being a part of that debate,” said Da-Ré.
The IG committee is composed of six voting members and the AVP IG, who is the non-voting chair. The voting members include four SRA members and two non-SRA MSU members, though other MSU members are welcome to participate in a non-voting capacity. Della-Vedova is currently one of the four voting SRA members on the committee.
“I think it’s important for me, as the chair of the committee, to try and stay as impartial as possible so that I can try my best to help facilitate an unbiased conversation within the committee and so that we can make the best suggestions possible to the SRA,” said Brown.
According to Brown, a committee member will usually lead the bylaw review, conducting research and proposing evidence-based ideas. Research includes studying procedures from various organizations, like student unions and governments.
The committee will discuss and debate ideas, including ideas from other members and MSU parties, until they have formed a cohesive proposal. That proposal is then circulated to the SRA, discussed and debated at assembly, then voted upon.
Approval from the SRA results in bylaw changes, while a rejection would send the bylaw back to the IG committee, restarting the revision process.
Deputy Returning Officer, Alison Hacker, discussed that her and Grewal as the DRO and CRO, respectively, have been invited to an internal governance committee meeting on bylaw 7/A.
“On behalf of the elections department, we believe that this is a fair conversation to be had and we are again in full support of supporting the review of this bylaw as needed,” said Hacker. “We do our best job just to uphold the bylaws, offer transparency in times when there’s a lot of confusion, such as now and offer as much support to any of these investigative processes as they work to make elections more equitable moving forward.”
Another of the four SRA voting members on IG is Simranjeet Singh of SRA Science. This is his second term on the assembly. Singh believed there should be a vote of confidence for MSU president, either by the students or SRA. He also spoke in favour of a minimum number of candidates and an extended nomination period until that number is reached.
Currently, he believed that the SRA would be better suited to take the vote because of the existing procedures for vice-presidential elections, which include a vote of confidence in the case of one candidate.
He acknowledged criticisms of the SRA as ill-informed but believed a presidential vote of confidence could be easily incorporated.
“I also fear that if there’s only one candidate, that it’s sent to a student poll, because students wouldn’t have as much background before they would go ahead and vote, we might just get a confidence vote, essentially, no matter what. I don’t have evidence to back it up, that’s just my fear based on my understanding, so it could definitely be wrong,” explained Singh.
A key distinction between MSU presidential and vice-presidential elections, particularly around acclamation, is their respective electorates. As McGowan explained, the president is selected from the general student population while the vice-presidents are elected by the SRA.
“The rationale is probably due to the want of the SRA to ensure that there’s not just a candidate that comes forward, but also the diligence and screening those candidates,” said McGowan.
To Singh’s fear of guaranteed confidence, in the 2020 presidential election more students abstained than voted for the third place candidate. While abstentions do not necessarily mean no confidence, there is evidence that the student body would vote with just cause.
Badran discussed a shorter campaign period in the event of one candidate as a chance for the student body to determine if they have confidence. He also believed there is merit to an SRA vote of confidence, but also discussed the importance of student voice.
“I feel like this [proposed bylaw changes] is supposed to represent us. How are you supposed to represent us if you can’t get our opinions straight from the source? Student government is wonderful, but sometimes you really need to listen to the people you’re representing instead of making an assumption,” said Badran.
An SRA vote of confidence also raises questions on which SRA would cast the vote — the incoming SRA, as with vice-presidents, or the outgoing assembly who are now used to their roles, as Singh discussed. There are many options to consider in the bylaw revision process, including options not mentioned in this article.