1995 SU election problems: the same, yet different

By James Keller

The Thu., Mar. 18 Students’ Union Review Board hearing won’t be the first time the validity of an election was challenged before the judicial body of the SU, nor will it be the first time the prospect of overturning the entire election was considered.

In March 1995, students took to the polls, electing 19 students from 40 candidates, and deciding on five referendum questions. On June 14 of the same year–after the new student government had already taken office–the Review Board ruled the election invalid, and all the new council’s decisions null and void.

The petition that sparked the hearing, filed by failed presidential candidates Heather Martin and David Wolf, complained that then-Chief Returning Officer Will Fong compromised the integrity of the election. There were three main complaints: in tallying the results, three polling stations were effectively forgotten; the ballots were destroyed before a recount was possible; and the CRO made errors in totaling ballot-counter sheets. Upon adding the missing ballots and re-totaling, the results of the two races changed.

Despite attempts to rectify the errors, the Review Board decided to overturn every single race in the election, dismantling the newly-elected Students’ Legislative Council. The board concluded it was not in the public’s best interests to allow an unreliable and non-verifiable election to stand, and Review Board Chair Tim Ryan claimed such a "scenario strikes deep at the heart of the democratic process."

Aside from removing the elected SU officials, the decision also posed another problem: for a new election to be called, an SLC must already exist. With no SLC, it was unclear whether a new election could even be called.

In answering this concern, the Review Board clarified their original decision, ruling that the previous year’s SLC would stay in office until a new general election could be held in September.

Later that month, answering a petition from ousted president Kate Kimberly, the SU Tribunal, the highest judicial body in the SU, overturned the original Review Board decision, reinstating SLC and reenacting decisions they already made. The six-member Tribunal unanimously decided that despite voting irregularities and tabulation errors, "the 1995 General Election was fair and democratic."

While there are obvious similarities between the 1995 General Election and this year’s (not the least of which being irregularities on the tallying and collection of votes), there are some very important differences to note as well.

If this year’s election is eventually overturned, the current SLC will retain the power to call another election and, if a new election cannot be feasibly held before the academic year is up, the current SLC has the power to extend their term until a new SLC is elected.

While the alleged infractions seem very similar this year, in 1995 the Tribunal was satisfied to re-tally the miscounted ballot-counter sheets. The very nature of the online voting system precludes an equivalent option.

Regardless, this is all speculation. Failed presidential candidate Phil Barski, who filed this year’s petition, did not ask the Review Board to overturn the election, he only requested an independent audit. Despite that, such a scenario is still in the Review Board’s power.

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