SU Election stands

By Chris Beauchamp

The Students’ Union Tribunal, the highest SU judicial authority, reversed the SU Review Board’s decision to overturn the hotly contested 2004 SU General Election.

"We were unanimous in our decision to reverse the Review Board’s decision and allow the election to stand," said Tribunal Chair Christine Nugent in a short oral statement following an hour-long deliberation.

A detailed written ruling will be released Thu., Apr. 8.

"We’re excited to be able to get going here and represent students," said Vice-President Operations and Finance-elect Greg Clayton. "It was pretty unanimous that all students thought the Review Board decision was wrong."

The Review Board ruled on the side of defeated presidential candidate Phil Barski, declaring that voting irregularities involving the online voting software designed by Sorex Software Inc. materially affected the outcome of the election.

Both the Thu., Mar. 18 Review Board, and the Wed., Apr. 7 Tribunal heard evidence from Director of Sorex Mark Wrubleski that a potential flaw in the system may have allowed some voters to inadvertently vote using another student’s identification. He said students abandoning ballots without waiting for a "session timed out" message could have inadvertently left the connection between the Infonet and the separate SU voting server open. Another student attempting to vote at the same computer within the 20-minute session limit, despite using their own information to log on to the Infonet, would have cast their ballot using the first student’s information. This scenario would mean the first student would lose their ability to vote and the second student could possibly vote again using their own identification. Due to the built-in anonymity of the system, the number of times this may have occurred is unknown.

External Commissioner-elect Matt Jenkins and Barski’s lawyer Jeff Sharp argued the glitches in the online system broke the SU constitutional right of every member to vote.

"This isn’t a case of sour grapes," said Sharp. "This is a case of fundamental rights."

According to Jenkins and Sharp, some people were denied the ability to vote, some thought their ballot was counted when it was not and others were potentially able to vote twice.

Wrubleski stated, in his opinion, based on the 20-minute time window necessary to facilitate the error, that the odds of this occurring were slim to none.

SU lawyer Bill Quigley based his case on precedents established by previously contested provincial and federal elections. According to Quigley, the burden of proof is the contesting party, in this case Barski. He argued there was no evidence of specific incidences of the error occurring and other reasons could explain the voting problems encountered by some students, such as the "theft of a student ID number or a Deputy Returning Officer leaving the session open."

Jenkins subsequently called as a witness Dan Bekele, a student who testified he logged into the voting system only to find his ballot was preselected and would not respond to changes. Under cross examination from Quigley, Bekele confirmed he was eventually able to vote.

Jenkins called SU Chief Re- turning Officer Shuvaloy Ma- jumdar and Returning Officer Mike Pal. Pal testified that when he attempted to vote all he received was a notice a ballot had already been cast in his name. He was unable to vote despite repeated attempts over the course of the election. Jenkins attributed this to the computer glitch, whereas Quigley argued it was just as likely a case of "identity theft."

Other arguments were introduced by Kent Breedlove, a first-year U of C law student, acting on behalf of candidates who filed for third-party intervenor status in the hearing. Breedlove argued democratic principals must be balanced with the fate of referendum questions affecting students. He noted decisions such as the U-Pass and Student Legal Assistance referendum questions were decided with a large margin of victory.

"The Review Board has comprom- ised these programs," he claimed.

Jenkins attempted to call SU President-elect Brian West and current SU President Jayna Gilchrist, but both declined. Pressed by Nugent, Jenkins was unable to say what information relevant to the hearing either witness could provide.

"If I thought it would have been relevant to students, I’d have been a witness," said Gilchrist after the hearing. "I’m just glad to have our incoming executive lead the team."

In his summation, Quigley called Barski’s case "an attempt to throw enough on the wall that something will stick." Both he and Breedlove noted there was no evidence to prove the glitch did or did not occur.

"As spokesman for the intervenors, we’re excited the Tribunal’s decision validated the democratic right of over 6,000 students," said Breedlove.

Reaction from the Barski team was subdued.

"We respect the Tribunal’s decision," said Hardeep Sangha, Barski’s campaign manager.

Sangha would not comment on whether they planned to appeal the case further.

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