By: Maanvi Dhillon
Voter turnout in the 2019 McMaster Students Union presidential election fell 1.2 per cent from last year, marking the lowest rate since 2012.
Just two years ago, voter turnout sat at 41.6 per cent and saw 9,327 student voters.
“The voter turnout rate continues the impressive upward trend in McMaster student voter turnout, and marks five consecutive years with more than 40 per cent of students voting in the MSU Presidential election,” reads a statement on the MSU website from 2017.
This ‘upward trend’ did not continue the following year. In particular, the 2018 election saw voter turnout fall 13.6 points.
Following last year’s election, the MSU elections department promptly investigated the sharp decline in voter turnout.
After finding no issues with the voting software, Simply Voting, low turnout was estimated to have been caused by students opting out of receiving elections emails.
“Students who voluntarily opted-out of emails from the MSU’s election software provider, as per Canadian anti-spam legislation, did not receive future emails,” said Uwais Patel, the MSU’s chief returning officer.
Patel pointed out that this did not necessarily prevent students from voting in the election as they could have received a ballot if requested. However, it still likely would have reduced their likelihood of voting.
Low voter turnout is a serious concern given the role and position of the MSU president, who Patel describes as “an important representative who will help shape the student experience for years to come.”
As a result of the change, in this year’s election, students were able to
access their online ballot with their Mac ID instead of email.
Students were also enabled to use a general link and log in with their McMaster login information, eliminating the necessity of email for access and making the process fit more naturally with other online McMaster activity, like accessing Mosaic or Avenue to Learn.
For these reasons, Patel believed the transition would make “voting more accessible and the process of voting more reliable.”
Before the election, Patel was confident that the MSU Elections’ lineup of strategies would give students access to the details they need to easily vote.
“Using resources and technology, we are maximizing the way we deliver… information,” said Patel. “By voting and engaging with the election this year, students can be confident in who they elect as MSU President to represent them on issues pertaining to student life and advocacy,” said Patel.
In effort to increase voter turnout, the elections department also released an instructional video showing how to vote.
They also asked committee members and MSU Maroons to promote the election on campus and encourage students to vote.
However, this year’s drop in voter turnout suggests that the new voting system and array of promotional efforts did not sufficiently improve the turnout rate.
This year’s notably low voter turnout casts doubt over the new MSU president’s capacity to ‘represent’ McMaster’s nearly 30,000 undergraduates when only 6,576 voted in the election.
Elections for the next McMaster Students Union president are wrapping up with polling closing on Jan. 24. As students cast their ballot this year, they are presented with five options: to vote for one of the four candidates, or to abstain. However, students should also be given the option to cast a vote of no confidence.
A vote of no confidence is essentially a vote claiming that the student has no confidence in the presented candidates and would not like any of them to act as a representative for the student. This could be due to a variety of reasons ranging from the infeasibility of the candidates’ platform points to judgements made on the candidates’ character.
While students can abstain, an abstained vote has ambiguous meaning. Although one can abstain because they feel a lack of confidence in all the candidates, abstained votes can also mean the voter feels uninformed to select a candidate, or cannot decide between equally-qualified candidates. Simply put, an abstained vote is not equivalent to a vote of no confidence.
The idea to implement a vote of no confidence is not novel. It was first proposed by Eric Gillis in 2014 when he was the 2014-2015 bylaws commissioner for the Student Representative Assembly. Since his initial proposal, the idea of a no confidence vote has been continuously advocated for by Miranda Clayton, who worked on the bylaws committee in 2014-2015 before her role as operations commissioner in 2015-2016.
Gillis and Clayton hoped to have a vote of no confidence implemented for SRA elections. As it stands, if only one person runs for a seat on the SRA, that seat is considered acclaimed by the individual. This is a consistent issue in the SRA where many seats are acclaimed. In doing so, students are deprived the opportunity to voice their oppositions or give any input into their representation.
This makes little sense. If others have to create platforms, run campaigns and be supported by the student body to obtain their seat, why shouldn’t candidates running unopposed be held to the same accountability? In essence, acclaimed seats should not exist as those seats are not truly representative of the people they are meant to represent. Instead, students should be able to take a vote of confidence on candidates running for those seats.
According to Clayton, the reason a vote of no confidence has not been implemented yet is largely due to such a change requiring major electoral reform. Ballots would have to be made to include a “no confidence” option and this would require major restructuring to the online ballot system and perhaps even changes to the MSU constitution.
Though these changes may be a large undertaking, they are nonetheless critical to ensure students are being represented properly.
The idea of a no confidence vote, while created with the SRA elections in mind, can be applied to the MSU presidential elections. If students are not confident in any of the candidates running, this is a problem that should be recognized and addressed by the student union.
I understand the risk associated in abstaining to vote or casting a no-confidence vote when multiple seats exist. In scenarios like these, it may make more sense to vote for the “lesser of two evils”. But if students truly feel that none of their options are good, they should have a forum to voice their concerns.
If the majority of voters have no confidence in their presidential candidates, this calls for drastic change. I’m not certain what sort of change this might entail. It could include holding a re-election, or changing the election bylaws to ensure candidates meet a level of standards and qualifications.
This might also be a non-issue. Perhaps students do feel confident in their given candidates. The only way we can know for certain is to allow students to have the option to vote no confidence.