More than one month after students’ ballots were cast and counted, the CSU judicial board has upheld the results of the general election. With Sunday’s ruling, President-elect Amine Dabchy and his Vision slate will officially take office on June 1.
Vision received the most votes during the March election. But their closest competitors, Change Concordia, filed over a dozen contestations seeking to have the entire election annulled.
In a unanimous decision, the judicial board ruled that Change was not able to prove that a smear campaign had affected the outcome of the election and that the process had been fair.
Change had alleged the election was “dirty’ and “unfair,” citing a smear campaign of handbills that compared the slate to Joseph Stalin and a website that contained “defamatory content,” according to Change vp university affairs candidate Audrey Peek.
The contestations, several of which sought the disqualification of the entire Vision executive slate, were first filed with Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), Oliver Cohen. When the CEO dismissed the complaints, they were appealed to the judicial board. Change claimed that they were not seeking to be placed in power. Rather, they wanted a second, “fairer” election in September.
Change said they believe the third-party smear campaign and the Chief Electoral Officer’s (CEO) “mismanagement” of the contestations filed with him could have easily caused them to lose the election.
“There’s no way to say how these elections would have gone had this [smear] campaign not happened,” Peek said.
Judicial Board chair Tristan Teixeira said they gave equal consideration to arguments and defences from all sides. “We wanted to make sure we gave Change’s arguments the time and the consideration they deserved,” he said. “And, at the same time, look at Vision’s arguments and the CEO’s arguments.”
During Sunday’s hearing Peek was asked to prove the smear campaign negatively impacted the results of the election. “Show me clearly,” he said, “that these anomalies, these problems, these violations had a tangible effect on the outcome of the election. How can you contend that negative behaviour on behalf of third parties made you lose, and not students who made a thoughtful decision and voted accordingly?”
There was also the question of an advertising truck that drove around the downtown campus on the first day of polling, carting a massive “Change” sign. It remains unclear who paid for the truck advertisement; Change alleged it was either another slate or an independent third party who wanted to jeopardize their chance of winning. Campaigning is prohibited once polling has begun. As well
Peek said that after seeing the advertisement, many students would believe Change overspent on their campaign and would not vote for them.
The board unanimously decided that the integrity of the election process was more important than the content of the campaign. “The integrity of the process was unaffected by the [smear campaign],” said Teixeira. “The content of the process, we had no idea how much that affected the election, because we can’t go out and ask four thousand odd voters what they thought and how they voted.”
The Board’s decision was based partially on the candidates’ inability to establish a clear link between the third-party behaviour and a specific party. “Everybody was able to show who the benefactor was,” Teixeira said. “That was easy. But there’s the problem: if we punish the benefactor, we’re going to encourage sabotage.”
The board acknowledged they are not in a position to stop the type of behaviour Change complained about. So, after the board unanimously decided the CEO did a good job at maintaining the integrity of the electoral process – the casting, storing and counting of ballots – the members said the only option left was to let the decision stand.
With files from Tyson Lowrie