Update: On April 4 at around 8:00 a.m., a new ballot was released for the spring by-election where students could vote for STUSU vice-president administration along with the option for graduating students to vote for valedictorian. The valedictorian candidates were: David Eno and Patrice Cammarano, who ran in the spring general election for this position, and Florence Awde and Madeline Taylor, who did not run for the position in the spring general election. At 6:00 p.m., Eno was declared valedictorian with 70 votes. Awde was the runner-up with 56 votes.
Every year, the St. Thomas University Students’ Union hosts a spring general election, which includes the option for graduating students to vote for valedictorian. But not all graduating students received the option on their ballots.
What began with a technical error resulted in an ongoing process of email exchanges, explanations in the March 20 STUSU meeting, resignations and an appeal process.
How did it start?
On March 10, at the start of the voting period, Precious Obiora clicked the link to her ballot and, to her surprise, the option to vote for valedictorian wasn’t available.
Obiora, a graduating student, thought she might need another link, so she contacted Victoria Young, STUSU’s then vice-president student life and one of the three candidates for valedictorian.
On March 11, Young responded to Obiora alleging she spoke with the chief returning officer, Ty MaGee, and the voters’ list was provided by the registrar, which meant there was nothing the union could do.
“At that point, I was panicking because I thought, ‘okay, maybe I wasn’t on the grad list,’” said Obiora.
That same day, STUSU published the results. Obiora said she had to wait until March 14 to communicate with the registrar’s office, who confirmed she was on the graduating list.
Obiora emailed MaGee directly to notify them about her problem. By then, she heard some other students were also unable to vote. Obiora pressed MaGee on what list was used, but no clear answer was given due to the privacy rights of students, according to the email exchange.
After some back and forth, MaGee wrote in an email dated March 15, “the votes in this election, if counted, would not have made a material difference in the outcome of the election,” referring to students who were unable to vote for valedictorian.
The final election results for valedictorian crowned Young as the winner with 43 votes and David Eno as runner-up with 41. Weighted voting put the candidates at a two-vote difference.
On March 10, valedictorian candidate Eno checked his email for the voting link but couldn’t find it. Thinking the links were delayed being sent out, he waited until the second day of voting to reach out to STUSU’s vice-president education, Sydona Chandon, to ask if the election links were sent out which she said they were.
Eno checked his email inbox and spam folder but didn’t see the link. Eno said Chandon reached out to the CRO, but since Chandon wasn’t in charge of the election, Eno reached out to MaGee a few days later. MaGee wrote back saying since Eno finished his degree requirements at the end of the fall semester, he is no longer considered an active student.
Although Eno finished his STU credits in December, he is graduating in May. Eno confirmed with STU’s registrar that he is on the 2022 graduating class list.
“At the end of the day, I was unable to vote for myself in the election, which already put me at a handicap against the two people I was running against because, of course, they could vote for themselves,” said Eno.
Eno was not made aware that, even though he could run for valedictorian, he wouldn’t be able to vote for himself since he isn’t considered an active student.
In the general election provisions section of STUSU’s bylaws, it reads that valedictorian “shall be elected by the graduating Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Applied Arts classes of the year.” But MaGee said since the list they were given matched the number of full-time students paying students’ union fees, it could explain why some students were left off the list.
“This was really important because the election was close. It was two votes and these are two votes that I reasonably believe were for me,” said Eno. “So it affects the election.”
Eno said the fact that there were at least two people who came forward about not being able to vote says there was likely a problem with the list used.
“I don’t think I should be punished for a mistake that somebody else made,” he said.
Why did it happen?
MaGee acted as chief returning officer for the spring general election, but because of the way the contract is set up, they could not speak with The Aquinian as CRO since the interview was more than three days after the election. Instead, they described the procedure of the election from the perspective of STUSU president.
Three days after the election, MaGee received complaints from students that they were unable to vote. MaGee reached out to the university to get an answer about why this would’ve happened.
MaGee said because an appeal was not submitted within the three-day cut-off and a recall request wasn’t submitted within five days, STUSU was unable to act on the situation.
In an interview with The Aquinian on March 19, MaGee said they stood by their statement to Obiora about there not being a “material difference” in votes had the error not occurred. But in the STUSU meeting a day later, MaGee retracted that statement and said they since looked at the numbers and now, the original statement “may or may not be false.”
MaGee said although there wasn’t much that could be done at the time of the election, it’s not an issue STUSU takes lightly and it received equal attention, if not more, to other issues brought up throughout the academic year.
“The biggest differentiator between this problem that has been raised and others is that we are dealing with the most rigid and strict part of our bylaws. And since it is so rigid, and it is so strict, we can’t make any changes to those bylaws,” said MaGee. “Now that the election has concluded, what we can do is have them reviewed before the next election.”
At the March 20 STUSU meeting, around 40 individuals showed up to talk about their concerns pertaining to the election. MaGee answered all of the posed questions over this time. During the meeting, MaGee explained that because an appeal wasn’t submitted within three days, the next step would be for a student to begin a recall process, with a motion to extend the deadline for recall approval. According to the recall provisions section of STUSU’s bylaws, a recall requires a petition with the names and student numbers of 20 per cent of the students’ union.
But Eno spoke up during the meeting, saying that he sent an appeal within the three-business-day deadline, so it should be counted. The members of the SRC went in-camera to confirm if the appeal met the deadline. It concluded that the appeal was submitted within proper timing and an appellate board was formed.
Jeffery Carleton, associate vice-president communications at STU, acted as privacy officer for the election and has been privacy commissioner in STUSU elections since they moved online. Carleton said nothing was out of the ordinary this year and the voting procedure was the same.
According to Carleton, he is responsible for working with the CRO. The CRO must request a voters list from Carleton and explain how they want the list segmented — depending on which group of students should be eligible to vote for each position.
“Some people can vote for some, some people can vote for others,” said Carleton. “Then I get approval from the registrar’s office to release the list. … Different people are responsible for different pieces of information.”
Information Technology Services is responsible for assembling the data and sectioning it into different categories, said Carleton. The CRO then uploads this to the Simply Voting program used for online voting.
Carleton said an issue like this has never occurred before, but a variety of factors could have contributed to it.
“When you’re dealing with that amount of data, it’s not surprising that there may be some discrepancies here and there,” said Carleton. “There’s any number of reasons why there may be a problem with an individual student and the data.”
Two days after the STUSU meeting on March 20, where it was announced that an appellate board would be formed and the appeal would go forward, Young, STUSU’s vice-president student life and valedictorian, resigned from both positions.
“The events leading up [to the March 20 meeting] is what caused me to choose to resign from both positions,” said Young.
According to MaGee, prior to the election and nomination period, they wrote a report to the STUSU executive council regarding Young, with the recommendation that a vote be put forward to the SRC about whether or not Young was in violation of particular code of conduct clauses.
MaGee said the executive council deemed it unnecessary to bring the vote to the SRC, per its bylaws, but instead decided that a human resources proceeding was necessary.
“I want to specify that that was not a decision that was made by any one executive in particular,” said MaGee. “We refer to our bylaws and the bylaws themselves constrained the course of action that we were able to take.”
MaGee is unable to confirm what happened during the HR proceeding since they were removed from the committee because there was a “predetermined bias” as the raiser of the complaint.
Young said during the HR proceeding on March 2, she was presented with three options: suspension, removal or writing an apology letter. She said she chose to write an apology letter.
She said her resignation from VPSL and valedictorian was partly influenced by a notice of a letter of removal sent to her on March 22.
“I didn’t want to put myself through that,” said Young.
With Young’s resignations, STUSU provided a public recommendation on March 23 to the appellate board to give the position of valedictorian to the runner-up — Eno.
But at the appeal hearing on March 25, the chief appeal officer announced Eno would not go forward with his appeal and a by-election would take place at the same time as the vice-president administration by-election, with the nomination period beginning on March 28.
At the hearing, MaGee said after reviewing the feedback from students and consulting with the university, a new change will be implemented beginning in May that allows all students who are likely to complete the 120 credit hours by the end of the winter semester to vote for valedictorian. This change will be reflected in the bylaws.
“That’s the change that we have made structurally from the students’ union university relations to prevent such incidents that we have seen in this past election from going forward,” said MaGee.
Eno said prior to the appeal hearing, he was given three options on how to proceed. The first option was to go through with the STUSU recommendation where he would take on the position of valedictorian, the second was to move forward with the by-election according to STUSU’s bylaws and the third would be to go forward with the appeal. If he chose option three, he would’ve needed to add an additional parameter instead of just asking for a redo of the election, since a by-election was already an option due to the resignation.
Eno chose to go forward with the by-election rather than taking on the position of valedictorian automatically.
“I ended up picking the second option,” said Eno. “Because what I wanted from the beginning was for the election to be done again the right way.”