The UVSS Board of Directors voted unanimously against ratifying the UVSS Elections Office’s electoral report on Monday, April 18, over concerns that the report’s recommendations did not adequately address harassment of and by candidates.
The full report of the elections office is available on its website.
Sara Maya Bhandar, UVic Pride board rep and Woke UVic candidate in this year’s student election, spoke out against ratifying the report. The report focuses on the conduct and results of the election, and Chief Electoral Officer Emma Hamill had initially presented the report to the board a week prior on April 11. Hamill was not present for Monday’s meeting.
In a statement read to the board, Bhandar recounted a meeting she had with Hamill on March 14 wherein she explained that marginalized candidates were disproportionately subjected to racism, sexism, transmisogyny, and “other assorted forms of violence.”
“This violence came from social media, in-person interactions, and debates held by the elections office,” said Bhandar. “Some of this violence was even perpetuated by the elections office themselves.”
Bhandar also referenced a Reddit post made several days after her meeting with Hamill. In the post, an anonymous individual claimed to have information regarding the content of the confidential meeting, and this left Bhandar feeling “shaken.”
Bhandar concluded by saying she supported the election results, but would not ratify an election report that “perpetuates violence and marginalizes students that [she represents.]”
Hearing this, the board decided to split the motion in two based on its separate clauses: one to ratify the electoral report, and one to ratify the election results. Ben Johnson, Communications & Research Manager, said that not ratifying the electoral report would be a strictly political statement that the board can’t stand behind a report that doesn’t reflect the member’s concerns.
Other board members expressed solidarity with Bhandar and wondered what could be done to remedy the issue.
Blake Desjarlais, Native Students Union Firekeeper, said he was “upset” by Bhandar’s allegations, and suggested an investigation into the elections office take place.
Heather Middlemass, Director-at-Large and chair of the electoral committee, said she felt some level of responsibility for what transpired, since she was on the hiring committee for Hamill’s position.
The meeting went in camera for half an hour after Johnson said that the conversation was steering towards personnel matters. When the meeting re-opened, the board voted against ratifying the report. The election’s results were subsequently ratified.
The Martlet has contacted the electoral committee for comment on what steps will be taken next, and will update this story when we hear back. (Full disclosure: Hamill sits on the Martlet’s own Board of Directors.)
UPDATE May 4, 12:59 p.m.: The UVSS Elections Statement has published a statement on its website. The full statement is also included below.
First, I would like to acknowledge that the Electoral Policy Manual (EPM), like many policies, creates a structure of power within a colonial context. The accusations made against the elections office are very serious and with the sensitive subject matter I would like to take time to acknowledge the offices action for the UVSS 2016 Spring Election and apologize for any violence members feel was perpetuated during this period.
The Elections Office is an independent office within the University of Victoria Students’ Society (UVSS), set to facilitate and offer unbiased and impartial information regarding elections and referenda concerning students. All student elections within the UVSS are organized and supervised by the UVSS Elections Office.
As per UVSS Election Policy, the Elections Office has the responsibility and authority to conduct elections under this policy, independently from the Board of Directors and the Electoral Committee, and impartially among candidates and slates.
Our Electoral Policy is based on the principles of:
respect for the democratic process and persons involved in that process, the right of voters and candidates to participate in a fair and just election, and fair and open processes for resolving election issues, including adjudications.
Over the Election period our office received eleven formal complaints and multiple informal complaints. All decision were upheld, except for Issue 10 (please see Complaints webpage for more details), by our appeals processes. With such a contentious election, our office was quite cautious in all our actions to ensure the fairness, impartiality and respect required. In the Electoral Report, our office spent tireless time and effort to address all issues that arose. We reviewed informal and formal complaints, suggestions by the adjudicator and arbitration panel and included recommendations based on them. It is important to emphasize that the report is just that, recommendations and suggestions. The Board of Directors has the discretion to review all electoral material and include further recommendations in policy development.
The Election office team comes from numerous backgrounds and identify with multiple marginalized groups and therefore take not only racism, but sexism, transmisogyny, colonial violence, ableism and other assorted forms of violence very seriously.
I can say with confidence that our office was very sensitive and active in our efforts to ensure that candidates were not subject these forms of violence. All of our decisions and actions were done so with professionalism and by following the policy. Our team would like to again apologize for any violence members feel was perpetrated during the election.