Not many students have been voting in elections for the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO). At last year’s general elections, turnout fell to just under eight per cent.
At the last Board of Administration (BOA) meeting on Sept. 18, members discussed a potential solution to the problem—adding a “none of the above” option to contested ballots.
After arguments on both sides, the board voted against this motion.
However, this is an important piece of electoral reform for the SFUO, and it needs to be enacted, whether in the BOA or through a motion brought at the next General Assembly.
The benefits of “none of the above”
The simple fact is, a “none of the above” option gives a voice to everyone, even if they don’t like any of the candidates. And let’s be honest, such a scenario is not out of the question.
Not only will it give students more of a voice, but the change will send the message that the SFUO wants to give more power to the student voter—a message that might make students feel more included in the political process.
And let’s not forget about the data. The SFUO keeps track of election data, who wins, and how many votes they get. This means the number of people who vote “none of the above” will be recorded as well.
The SFUO can use this data to know what it needs to do to increase student participation. They can find out whether students care and just don’t feel like the candidates represent them, or if they are disengaged from the system completely.
What if no one’s elected? Just hold a special election!
One of the major arguments against the “none of the above option” at the BOA meeting was this: what if no one is elected? Especially if it’s a member of the executive?
It’s a scary thought at first. What happens if so many people don’t like our candidates that no one is left at the wheel?
It would never happen.
Even if some positions are left unfilled, the SFUO Constitution already has the answer—it’s called a special election.
According to the constitution, “special elections are elections other than general elections and byelections that must be called in order to fill any vacancies that may not be filled through byelections.”
But we’ll need to call another election for that, it’ll take more time!
It will, but it won’t leave the SFUO shorthanded. General elections are held before the year ends, usually in February, with the terms of the new executive due to start at the end of the winter semester. So there’s still time before the terms of the new executive arrive to hold another election. Meanwhile, the full executive will continue to steer the ship.
What about the cost? Elections, as many have already pointed out, don’t grow on trees. That’s true, but students also have to consider the cost of bad management. We’ve seen this year what the cost of past management errors can add up to—and it’s a lot.
You can think of it like an insurance policy. The SFUO pays a little more for elections each year, and in return it gets better management that minimizes the chance of major problems in the future.
Not sure if it’ll work? Don’t worry, we had a special election last year.
The SFUO held by-elections to fill the posts of president and vice-president finance after the positions were vacated early in the school year. The vice-president finance was elected, but proper procedure wasn’t followed for the president position, so the sole candidate was not elected.
So was a president just never elected? Nope, the SFUO called a special election soon after, and Anne-Émilie Hébert was elected and started doing her job.
Oh, and by the way, there was a “no” option on her ballot.
Wait a second, we kinda already have “none of the above”
Students need to remember that the “none of the above” option already exists in SFUO elections.
If there’s only one candidate on the ballot, they’re not automatically given the position. There are two boxes on the ballot—“yes” and “no.”
If the candidate gets more “no” votes, they’re not elected and the position is not filled.
This is how the system works currently, and there are no complaints about that. On the contrary, if the SFUO were to take away the “no” option, students would feel like they have no say in student politics.
This raises the question: if you don’t like a candidate and the only other option is a candidate you find just as objectionable, is that really any better than being given no option at all?