Handling ‘the worst job in the AMS’: Elections administrator Halla Bertrand takes a stand

Running the AMS elections is no easy feat.

The existence of the society depends on the elections administrator (EA) being able to run successful elections. But outgoing EA Halla Bertrand says the job is isolated, under-supported and under-paid.

In a presentation to AMS Council on March 27, Bertrand explained the hardships she experienced during her tenure — from a lack of training to low pay and outdated rules, such as postering.

The EA is responsible for running elections in every AMS constituency, including responding to complaints, enforcing rules and tallying the totals. During the executive elections, Bertrand says she worked well over her paid hours just to pull off the job.

And those concerns are nothing new. In a previous Ubyssey article, 2016 AMS elections administrator Justin Habashi described the job as “a monster truck rally.”

Marjan Hatai, a fifth-year political science major and AMS referendum coordinator in 2014 said “the position pushed [her] to the edge.”

“I joke that the worst job in the AMS is the AMS elections administrator,” said 2017 EA Max Holmes in a previous interview with The Ubyssey.

Bertrand said the lack of training from the AMS was one of the biggest hardships she faced during the job.

“I floundered for months in this position before I found my footing, and I thought about quitting all the time,” she said to AMS Council.

Overworked and underprepared

The EA position is often marketed as ‘a great learning experience.’ But while Habashi, Hatai, Holmes and Bertrand agreed that they had learned a lot, they echoed sentiments of feeling overworked and underprepared.

“My predecessor joked that they wouldn’t wish this job on their worst enemy in the sense that it’s such a rewarding job and you learn so much,” Holmes said. “But there were nights when I was in the office until 2 a.m. in the morning.”

Bertrand said when she was appointed to the position last September she received no transition report or training, which she described as “horrifying.”

“I was expected to run constituency elections later that month without any training,” she said to AMS Council.

The EA is kept separate from other AMS staff to ensure impartiality, and traditionally they have not been hired until September, which leaves a tight transition period.

Bertrand said she had few places to turn to for assistance and received no training on how to use AMS Elections software, which became one of the most challenging aspects of her job.

“It's difficult to ask for support because other people don't know how to help you,” she said. “Because inherently, [AMS staff are] not supposed to socialize with you.”

She was eventually able to do so with the help of Stephanie Oldford, UBC's academic governance officer, and Sheldon Goldfarb, the AMS archivist.

Bertrand also went into detail about the emotional labour required to run an election, including how she dedicated a significant amount of time outside regular working hours to assist the candidates. At the meeting, she explained that the boundaries she laid out at the All Candidates Meeting were broken almost immediately.

“I was responding to phone calls at midnight. I was responding to texts at seven in the morning,” she said. “The amount of emotional labour candidates dump on you is incredible.”

Planning for the future

Bertrand is working on making the role easier for her successor.

The AMS human resources committee has changed code to hire and train the 2020 EA in April rather than September.

In her presentation to Council, Bertrand also advocated for a pay raise from AMS Tier 2 at $13.68 to Tier 3 at $14.80, which the HR committee refused.

Bertrand said when she presented her request to the committee, it agreed to raise the amount of hours in the EA contract, but not the wage.

“I'm still disappointed that they came back with ‘no,’ and I don't believe that adding additional hours has the same value as a pay raise does,” Bertrand said afterwards.

In a statement to The Ubyssey, Cole Evans, chair of the AMS human resources committee and incoming VP Administration, confirmed that the committee had decided not to raise the wage, but rather extend the position’s hours. This will include an addition of two hours per week for the months of May to August, and five hours per week for the months of January to April, raising the number of paid hours from 20 hours per week to 25.

“In total, this is an increase of approximately 112 paid hours over the course of the year. An approximately 28% increase overall in paid hours (calculated on approximately 400 existing hours), and an increase of 25% in paid hours in the second semester when election season occurs,” said the statement to The Ubyssey.

Bertrand is working on a transition report and is planning to hire and train her successor in the upcoming weeks.

“I'm critical of this job because I want it to be better for the next year,” Bertrand said.

“... I've come out of this way stronger than I was before and way more capable to deal with criticism and conflict. And, those are invaluable skills that I would not have gotten in another position at the AMS.”

With files from Zak Vescera

Update, 4:44 p.m.: This article has been updated to specify the HR committee changed code for the EA to begin training in March, though Bertrand advocated for this as well.