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.”
The announcement of an acclaimed MSU president-elect should raise questions as to why no one is running for MSU positions
Graphic By Nigel Mathias/Contributor
By: Belinda Tam, Contributor
On Jan. 26, 2021, it was announced that Denver Della-Vedova was acclaimed for the position of McMaster Students Union president for the 2021-2022 academic year.
Taking into account both world events and student’s everyday lives, this news may not be on the top of everyone’s mind at the moment. Knowing that this semester is a continuation of a time where the majority of classes are being conducted online — besides a small subset of students being on campus — there’s no doubt that students have been pouring more time into their studies.
Since an acclamation hasn’t occurred within at least 40 years, it's important to discuss the barriers in running an election. There are multiple rules in place for running candidates, which can pose as a potential financial barrier if you get fined.
Depending on the position the person is running for, guidelines and rules can vary. Violation of election rules may cause you to be fined unless you go through an appeal process. Furthermore, there is the issue of having financial accessibility if a candidate racks up lots of fines, which in turn may stop them from wanting to run.
With that said, there is actually a lot of work to be done when running for one of these positions. In previous presidential elections, candidates often take time off from class, especially for the campaigning period in order to inform the general student population about their mission and what they are hoping to do when elected.
When taking time off from class and possibly even work, not only does the student have to put in extra time and effort to catch up but this time off may also impact evaluations at work as well as testing in courses. Based on the amount of time required to dedicate yourself to running, this may also eliminate more candidates from applying.
In addition, the candidate also often makes a campaign team and has to coordinate the more minor details such as making sure someone was always present at their campaign table.
With that being said, having a team does alleviate the workload but much work is to be done at the beginning of this process when it comes to planning your campaign, as well as managing the team.
This is a lot to handle in conjunction with coursework and personal life. With this level of commitment and time invested, candidates seem to be willing to do whatever it takes to get the position.
Another important note is that you may have a better chance of winning the election if you are more involved and connected with people in the MSU.
Previous presidents such as Ikram Farah, Josh Marando and Giancarlo Da-Ré were all heavily involved in the MSU, which may have had a role in them winning since they had connections to others in the MSU.
As a result, they are more likely to know people who are in positions of power, so it’s easier for them to reach out and build their platform. While opinions may vary, having connections could mean that you have a better chance at winning.
However, we might be missing out on those in the student population who want to run — and might actually be good at the job for that matter — but won’t win because they don’t have those connections.
If this indeed is the case, this means that there is a bias in the system. Those who choose to run by themselves are at a greater disadvantage compared to those who have connections with the predecessors in the role they are campaigning for.
With Della-Vedova’s acclamation of such an important role within the MSU, it is important to reflect on why this issue may have arisen in the first place. If elections aren’t accessible for anyone to run, we may see more acclamations in the future.
Get to know the newly acclaimed MSU president-elect Denver Della-Vedova
The nomination period for the 2021 McMaster Students Union presidential election ended on Jan. 21. As the only nominee received by the elections department, Denver Della-Vedova has officially been acclaimed as MSU president-elect. Della-Vedova’s presidential term will begin on May 1, 2021.
Della-Vedova is currently in his fourth-year of honours life sciences with a minor in environmental sciences. In addition to his passion for guitar, gaming and seeing trails and waterfalls around McMaster University, he has been involved with student government for several years — including throughout his high school years and his past three years at McMaster.
In his first year of university, he was a member of First Year Council and has been part of the Student Representative Assembly for the past two years. His passion for student government finds its roots in his drive to empower others around him and to help his fellow students get the most out of their learning institution.
“I really like helping people,” explained Della-Vedova. “I like making sure people get what they want out of their learning institution. And I really wanted to be able to focus on bringing folks together, especially this year.”
Della-Vedova was the only nominee for the MSU presidency this year, which has been the cause of discussion and debate on social media, but is focused on looking to the future. Some students have expressed frustration over there being no student input during the process of Della-Vedova being acclaimed as MSU president-elect.
To this, Della-Vedova expressed understanding — an understanding of the frustration, gave a promise to show the student body who he really is and that he is ready to serve the Mac community to the best of his abilities.
“I'm really excited to move forward. As for you know, obviously, it's an issue among students with the acclamation process in policy issue. So I'm sure that the SRA is gonna work on that and debate about that. But as it stands, I'm trying to focus on the future,” ” said Della-Vedova. “
Part of Della-Vedova’s focus on the future is ensuring the student body is made aware of his campaign and plans as MSU president, something that would typically happen during the campaign period. Della-Vedova’s campaign is centered on three pillars: accessibility; bettering advocacy; and community, togetherness and support. The three come together to form his slogan, “Denver’s ABCs”.
Accessibility within the university is an important issue to Della-Vedova. His passion for ensuring accessibility is grounded in his work over the past six summers at Stripe Learning Centre for Children, a physiotherapy camp for youth with cerebral palsy. He is very interested in overcoming issues negatively impacting accessibility at Mac. He is especially interested in making the reintegration of in-person learning accessible for all students.
One of the main ways in which Della-Vedova hopes to improve accessibility is to try to centralize the avenues and channels students use to communicate within courses, such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Avenue to Learn.
Although Della-Vedova’s hope to reduce channels of communication within courses is a campaign point that will surely resonate with many students, it is currently unclear how he will accomplish this.
Della-Vedova also seeks to improve and expand upon the ways in which the MSU currently advocates for students. He seeks to build upon what is already in place with regards to student advocacy and implement improvements where possible.
“As for bettering advocacy, I've said bettering too, because . . . I love what the MSU does for advocacy,” explained Della-Vedova. “But I want to improve it where I can . . . so tuition advocacy, financial aid, international student representation and campus safety, these are all things that I think we need to advocate [more] on.”
Della-Vedova believes his background in student advocacy and government will help him achieve these goals. For example, he hopes to be able to use his position to implement ways for students to learn more about their tuition, OSAP and provincial government. He also wishes to help students have greater access to resources and events surrounding student housing and tenant rights.
Della-Vedova also wants to better utilize student advocacy organizations such as Undergraduates of Canadian Research Universities and Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance. The MSU is a member of both of these organizations, which advocate to the federal and provincial governments, respectively. Although he has not dealt with UCRU directly, Della-Vedova looks forward to discussing McMaster student issues with them.
“I've looked into what we've done in the past, I know there's been advocacy that was done through UCRU and through OUSA,” explained Della-Vedova. “But I just want to lean into them a little more this year and really push.”
Racial profiling by security on campus has been a concern for McMaster students this past year, ultimately leading to SRA passing a motion calling for the removal of the head of security services and an end to the special constable program on campus. When asked about this issue, Della-Vedova explained he plans to consult the Equity and Inclusion Office and research other Canadian campus safety models to understand how to better address this situation.
Although he did not directly discuss racial profiling and racism at Mac in his campaign, he did acknowledge that the fight against racial profiling has been a student-led effort and the importance of students in this conversation.
“Students have been at the front of this advocacy and I think they're a huge part of this conversation, too,” said Della-Vedova.
The final aspect of Della-Vedova’s campaign is his community, togetherness and supports pillar. Through this pillar and his associated endeavours, he hopes to bring the McMaster community together for the 2021/2022 school year. Among his ideas, he plans to focus on improving mental health services, restructuring Welcome Week and addressing issues affecting MSU clubs.
MSU clubs provide a sense of community for many McMaster students. This year, there was a lot of concern with the MSU requiring clubs to have 25 members. Della-Vedova hopes to consult with the clubs advisory council and the MSU to address these issues.
In order to strengthen the McMaster community, Della-Vedova also hopes to improve the delivery of student mental health services. The president-elect believes the key to this is the implementation of an online booking system for the Student Wellness Centre, which would allow for empty appointment slots to be filled. Although he has not consulted with the Student Wellness Centre directly or made concrete plans for this idea, he is hoping to do so soon.
Della-Vedova has many plans for his MSU presidency, although some of them may lack clarity. He has been interested in taking on the role of MSU president since his first year. He said that the Mac community has given him a lot over the past several years and he is looking forward to giving back through this role, regardless of the circumstances of his victory.
“The biggest thing I'd like to say about Mac itself is the community has always kept me in a good mood,” explained Della-Vedova. “That was actually why I picked McMaster to go to.”
Students will surely learn more about Della-Vedova in the coming months as he transitions into the role. To learn more about his campaign and plans as president, students can also visit the following social media accounts:
Facebook: MSU President-Elect Denver Della-Vedova