MASU presidential vote now under investigation by ombudsperson

The Mount Allison Students’ Union’s ombudsperson is investigating after receiving a complaint that this year’s MASU elections broke the rules by depriving voters of the ability to abstain in the second round of a vote.

If Ombudsperson Maggie Fyfe decides in favour of the complaint, students may be sent back to the polls for a run-off election to decide next year’s president. But until then, the union says, the vote is legitimate, and Dylan Wooley-Berry remains president-elect.

The complaint filed Jan. 28 argues that voters were improperly forced to identify a second-choice candidate on their ballots if their first choice was eliminated in the first round. The alleged result, according to a MASU press release, is that there’s no guarantee Wooley-Berry would have garnered the majority of votes required to win.

The reason? When this year’s executive elections were set up, Mount Allison Students’ Union staff failed to ensure that the union’s members would be using the optional preferential ballot required by bylaw. Instead, the elections used a mandatory preferential option, which forces a voter to either rank all candidates in order of preference or abstain altogether.

While the voting system used the mandatory preferential option in each race, the victorious candidates in the other races clinched majorities in the first round.

Wooley-Berry finished the first round with 46.42 per cent to Piper Riley Thompson’s 34.60 per cent, and Riley Thompson was eliminated in the first round. Because the voting system automatically assigned second preference to Wooley-Berry on each vote for Riley Thompson, the only votes Wooley-Berry did not receive were the first-round abstentions.

The problem was that the online voting system violated MASU’s election bylaw. Law III.4 (f) states that “For all elections with two (2) or more candidates, a system of optional preferential voting will be used.” However, this was not the system set up for students to use on Simply Voting, the voting website used for MASU elections, this past Monday and Tuesday.

“We set up the ballot wrong,” said vice-president of finance and operations, Josh Outerbridge. “We should have also given people the option to abstain in that [second] round.”

MASU councillors raised concerns with the voting set up at Monday’s council meeting, over 24 hours before the polls closed.

“The software, from my understanding, does not allow optional preferential voting,” Bouhlel told councillors on Jan 26, “[students] do, unfortunately, have to select all candidates.” Bouhlel also said the elections office was willing to accommodate paper ballots and write-ins for students unsatisfied with the ballot set up. The software has accommodated optional preferential voting successfully in the past, including former vice-president external Ian Smith’s 2013 victory over Natalie Brunet in the second round.

Wooley-Berry was present at the meeting. “The CRO [Bouhlel] seemed to think there was no issue,” said Wooley-Berry. “He immediately moved on through his presentation.”

“Quite frankly, I’m surprised this is suddenly an issue after I’ve won,” said Wooley-Berry. “Nothing was done to prevent it.”

All candidates were permitted to have a scrutineer to ensure proper tallying of the ballots done by Bouhlel the night the polls closed. Wooley-Berry’s scrutineer, second-year biochemistry major Allison Loewen, said there was uncertainty about the validity of the results on the election night from Bouhlel and current MASU president, Heather Webster.

Loewen said that when the presidential election results came up that Bouhlel left the room with the laptop containing the results to make a private phone call. “He said there was a large amount of abstained votes and needed to make sure [the] numbers worked.”

After a few minutes of questioning the reasoning behind Bouhlel’s closed doors, Loewen requested to be present for this phone call. Loewen was present for a phone call on speakerphone between Bouhlel, Webster and Outerbridge.

Loewen said Webster brought up concerns about the mandatory preferential voting affecting the results, but that it was not further discussed. “The idea was kind of shot down,” said Loewen. “That was the end of the conversation.”

Webster announced the results within the hour at Thunder and Lightning, where a MASU-sponsored results party was taking place.

“[Riley Thompson] lost,” said Outerbridge. “The question is if Dylan has a 50 per cent mandate.”

The Argosy found out the morning of Thursday, Jan 29 that the decision to have a run-off election was made at 9:30 a.m. that day. By evening, MASU’s ombudsperson was investigating, putting any plans for a run-off on hold. If the investigation concludes that the complaint was correct, Bouhlel will be compelled to rectify the situation.

“Ultimately, no-one benefits from not having a president-elect. It’s a detriment to the projects of the vice-presidents and it’s a detriment to this organization,” said Wooley-Berry.

Note: This story originally and erroneously named MASU vice-president communications Ryan Harley as the third party on the election night phonecall with Rayan Bouhlel and Heather Webster. In fact, it was Josh Outerbridge. The story has been updated to reflect this. The Argosy regrets the error.

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