Voting "no confidence" in McMaster Students Union elections

Sabrina Macklai
January 24, 2019
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes
Photo C/O Madeline Neumann

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.


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  • Sabrina Macklai

    Sabrina Macklai is the Opinion Editor for Volume 89. A fourth-year Integrated Science student completing her thesis in analytical chemistry, she is a wearer of many hats - so long as the hat sparkles! Since she was a child, she’s had a love for the written word and has been involved in several publications including scientific journals and creative writing magazines. She firmly believes that everyone has a story to tell and it is her ambition to help as many as possible share theirs with the world.

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