This year’s student election period has been lengthened after it was revealed that Senate and Board of Governors (BoG) elections have been violating provincial law for several years.
In early February, UBC’s Elections Officer, Stephanie Oldford, received a tip from a student senator that the election schedule for student senators and governors violated the University Act, the law governing how BC universities are operated and governed.
The act specifies candidates must hand in their nomination papers “at least 4 weeks before the date of the election.”
But this year, student senator and BoG elections were open until February 15, leaving only three weeks before the voting period was scheduled to end.
AMS elections have operated on this timeline for several years without knowing they were violating the bylaw.
On February 13, shortly after Oldford received the tip, the AMS extended the elections period an extra week to comply with the law.
The voting period was originally slated for March 4 to March 8 but will now run from March 11 to March 15.
The act’s elections standards do not apply to the election of AMS executives because the AMS operates independently from the university, but they do regulate the election of students-at-large in the UBC Senate and Board of Governors.
The AMS elections committee opted to push the voting period for all its races back a week to accommodate the Senate and Board elections and avoid holding two separate voting periods.
On February 19, AMS Council was forced to hold held an emergency meeting to change the election schedule.
“I’m compelled to follow the AMS electoral code of procedure and I'm compelled to follow the University Act,” said Halla Bertrand, the AMS’s Elections Administrator.
The violation was first discovered by student BoG and Senate member Jakob Gattinger, who immediately notified Oldford.
“The registrar [of the Senate and Board] delegates the election to the AMS with the idea basically that we’ll get higher turnout, which is true,” explained Jakob Gattinger, “but it hasn't been done properly, is the problem.”
It may seem like a minor infringement requiring an easy solution. But Bertrand noted that the voting period delay will have negative consequences for candidates who have to continue to campaign while juggling academics and other commitments.
“There's some concern from candidates about the pressure that a longer campaign period will have on their academic lives and how they're able to run a solid campaign for an extended period of time,” said Bertrand.
However, she believes the longer campaign period will be better for voter turnout and engagement.
“In my opinion, I can only see benefits [for constituents],” said Bertrand, “It only gives voters more time to get to know the campaigns of their candidates ... [and] consider what all the candidates bring to the table.”
“I would say from my experience doing the elections through webvote, that definitely having a longer period [causes] a higher turnout,” said Oldford, who runs all elections for the Senate, Board of Governors and other elected positions at UBC.
Bertrand and the AMS elections committee will use the extra week to plan social events that will provide a more intimate setting for students to get to know their prospective representatives.
“It’s important to us to provide opportunities for candidates to speak with constituents in a relaxed way,” said Bertrand.
So far, the elections committee has tentatively planned five events, including “Coffee with Commuters,” where candidates will offer coffee to passing students to spur conversation, and a gathering in the Hatch Art Gallery.