CSU January By-Election to Run Online

Union Releases Costs of Cancelled Election, General Coordinator Responds to Transparency Worries

The CSU’s January by-elections will take place online, despite asking a referendum question asking for support on online voting. Archive Tristan D’Amours

Voting for the Concordia Student Union by-elections will take place online. CSU council agreed Wednesday night that the by-elections—initially set to take place between Nov. 27 and 29—will take place on an online platform separate from My.Concordia this January.

On Tuesday night, it was announced that the November by-elections would be postponed until January. The CSU Chief Electoral Officer Claire Girard-Moreau—who was appointed on a temporary basis Nov. 23 after Viktoriya Kadzhiyeva stepped down earlier that week—wrote in a statement that the election needed to be delayed since ballots were not properly numbered and technical difficulty arose with computers that were used to verify voters’ identity.

Girard-Moreau said at Wednesday’s council meeting that she had “little to no indication on how to design the ballots.” Girard-Moreau originally sought ballots made by an independent printing company she was referred to, but found their design was not in accordance with CSU regulations and the cost was over budget. Girard-Moreau then cancelled the order, so new ballots could be used.

Girard-Moreau added that she sent an email to the CSU’s office on the weekend before polling on how to design the ballots, but did not receive a reply due to the office being closed over the weekend.

After the announcement of the delayed elections, piles of ballots were shown unattended in the Hall building on Tuesday night. Councillor Rory Blaisdell expressed his concern over breached privacy as photos of the ballots were circulated on the Facebook page Spotted: Concordia.

“There were lists with student numbers. I saw photos posted online of someone with a handwritten sheet of student numbers and information on [what they voted for],” said Blaisdell. “The CSU as an organization has a legal duty to protect the identifying information of our student members.”

Concerns over the security of paper ballots prompted the CSU council to push for online voting for the January by-elections. Some councillors and executives expressed concern about holding the by-elections online, since the question of online voting was unable to go to undergraduate students through traditional paper voting. While online voting is being used for the January by-election, council noted online voting will only remain permanent if undergraduates vote in support of the online voting referendum question.

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“All of you councillors pride yourself into representing the students, and this council, and this question was supposed to go on referendum and now all you want is to pass it in this room all alone without any democracy? That is f— up, I’m sorry,” said Camille Thompson, the CSU’s external affair and mobilization coordinator.

Blaisdell argued referendum questions are “a courtesy” meant to gain engagement from the students and ask for their opinions. “The referendum question itself is not to implement something, it’s to ask on support of something.”

CSU General Coordinator Sophie Hough-Martin told The Link in an interview that she’s concerned over the lack of research being done on online voting.

“I have not been presented any research, council has not been presented any research and the elections and participation committee was mandated to do so and I understand that the chair of that committee has done research on their own time,” Hough-Martin told The Link.

Polling for the January by-elections is set to take place no later than the third week of January, but no official date has been set yet.

By-Election Budget: False Information Spreads Online

On Spotted: Concordia a number of statuses mentioned the CSU had spent between $50,000 and $53,000 before cancelling the by-elections. This figure was later dismissed at council on Wednesday. Hutton said the numbers posted on Spotted are not accurate as they were based on the CSU’s projected expenses, not actual expenses.

Spotted: Concordia is not a news source, please be skeptical on what gets put up there,” said Hutton.

So far, the CSU has spent about $25,500 on this years by-elections, including about $11,500 spent on polling clerks. With the postponement of the by-election, the CSU set an additional budget of just under $24,000 for the January polling dates, which includes an additional $9,000 estimated cost for an online voting fee.

Hutton clarified that the CSU’s election budget for the year was set at $72,500 spread across two elections (by-elections and general elections). After meeting with former Election CEO Kadzdiyeva they projected a budget about $36,000 for the November by-elections.

The CSU has since released a statement revealing the cost of the election budget for the 2018-2019 year. It mentioned that postponement of the by-elections means some expense will have to be re-incurred.

“Some of the projected costs have been recouped, such as not paying for the full three planned polling days for space and equipment rental, and security,” the statement wrote. “The CSU council chose to pay the polling clerks for all three days, [at $15.11 per hour], which they had planned to work, so that students that set aside their time during exams wouldn’t be left with nothing.”

CSU Transparency Called To Question

Candidates who attended Wednesday’s council meeting raised their concerns over the cancelled by-elections. Victoria Bolanos-Roberts, a candidate in the by-elections representing arts and science, stated that there was “a lack of clarity and transparency” within the CSU.

Bolanos-Roberts said during campaigning candidates were never informed about the change in election CEO. She added that candidates were also never emailed over the postponement of the elections.

Within the time elections were cancelled on Tuesday night and Wednesday’s council meeting, Bolanos-Roberts said candidates were still left in the dark about how the announcement would affect their run.

Hough-Martin said that within the 21 hours since polls were postponed and the council meeting, executives were still busy gathering as much information as possible.

“When we’re giving information to the student body we want to make sure that we’re giving them correct, informed, information so that there is no misinformation […] and that we are all aware of all the facts,” said Hough-Martin. “With transparency, it’s important that we have clear informed communication and I don’t think that would’ve been possible within the 21 hour scope we had before [Wednesday] night’s meeting.”

Girard-Moreau planned on informing candidates after announcing the election cancellation, but admitted she “was exhausted and it completely slipped my mind to email the candidates.”

“I should have sent a proper email to everyone, and I apologize for that,” said Girard-Moreau.

Regarding the change in the CEO, Hutton said that he was told by Kadzdiyeva that she failed to communicate with candidates of her resignation because she felt it would be inappropriate of to use the CEO’s email account after stepping down from the position.

“I don’t know if why or why not candidates were not contacted I was only made aware that that was an issue last night,” Hough-Martin told The Link.

Bolanos-Roberts also called Girard-Moreau’s appointment into question, mentioning she wasn’t given an interview, but rather that “an executive order was issued because someone was close to the general coordinator, who is their little sister in their sorority.”

“I didn’t have a proper interview […] but at the same time I didn’t think an interview was required in the moment,” Girard-Moreau said.

Hough-Martin told The Link in an interview that that upon Kadzdiyeva’s resignation, no deputy electoral officer’s were interested in the position, and that she received no suggestions for potential candidates before Girard-Moreau approached her for the position and was hired on a temporary basis until Dec. 7.

When Girard-Moreau expressed interest in the CEO position, Hough-Martin brought it up with council; Hough-Martin told The Link that she disclosed with council that Girard-Moreau was part of her sorority, and that they have a personal relationship.

“At no point did council express concerns until [Wednesday] night about any potential conflict of interest to me or to any executive member,” added Hough-Martin.

On Dec. 5, the CSU will be holding an information sessions to provide students with more clarity about the circumstances that led to the by-election being postponed. Students will be able to address executives and submit questions.