Several students were confused as to whether their votes were counted during the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) elections.
The Fulcrum spoke with Vignesh Markandu, Frank Ferris, Zahura Ahmed, and Percy Sherwood, who said they were not in the system and deemed ineligible to vote on Election Day, despite being full-time co-op students at the U of O. However, these students were able to vote when they personally asked chief electoral officer Melanie Large.
“It was brought to my attention that there was an issue that co-op students do not pay ancillary fees, i.e. they only pay their co-op fees,” Large wrote in an email to the Fulcrum. “They are therefore not considered members of the SFUO.”
Three of these students did not place their votes in the regular ballot box but into a separate envelope reserved for only co-op student votes. Large clarified that this process was called “double envelope voting” and was done so the “anonymity of the voter is ensured.”
Students who are adamant they should be able to vote are given a blank envelope in which to place their marked ballot. The first envelope is placed in a second envelope with the student’s name and number on it. Once sealed, the second envelope is placed in the ballot box and separated from regular ballots on counting night. The CEO and the chief returning officer review the names of the students on the outer envelope to see if they have paid SFUO fees, discarding the individuals who have not. If they have, their ballots are deemed eligible. Sherwood, Ahmed, and Ferris all confirmed that they had placed their ballots into an envelope.
Under Section 2.2.2, the SFUO constitution states that “individual members of the Federation must pay the membership fees of the Federation as set out in section 2.3 unless otherwise specified by these by-laws.” This means co-op students are not part of the SFUO and are therefore unable to vote in the election under bylaws 4.10.2 and 4.10.3.
“Co-op students who are paying members of the SFUO, i.e. those who pay student fees, would be eligible to vote,” said Large.
This caused confusion among co-op students who believed that their votes should be counted. Ahmed witnessed a conversation between Large and another SFUO elections official and was told that “if the results were very close, where the envelope ballots could make a difference, then they would be looked at, but otherwise if the results were far off enough, they would not be looked at in the end,” according to Ahmed.
In that same conversation, Ahmed said he was told “the status (of co-op students) has always been a problem and it was always kind of blurred if co-op students would be able to vote or not.”
Large was unavailable for further comment and did not confirm or deny whether the votes had been counted.
“If you are a student, you should be able to vote.” said Sherwood, a third-year sociology major and full-time co-op student. “They said that I wasn’t in the system, which was confusing because I’m a University of Ottawa student.”
Sherwood said he and other co-op students had been led to believe that despite not paying SFUO fees, they should have been able to vote.
Markandu, a third-year public administration and political science co-op student, experienced a similar issue. He was told when he registered as a candidate that he would need to pay SFUO fees in order to run in the election. Markandu paid the $50 fee to join the SFUO but was still not on the voters list on Election Day. After showing his receipt from the SFUO and discussing the issue with the poll clerk, he was able to vote.
“Co-op students are still full-time students and we’re still going to be affected by everything that happens at the SFUO and other federated body levels,” Ahmed said. “This doesn’t make sense to me.”