By JOSH BURY
A record number of students participated in the election of Conestoga Students Inc.’s board of directors for the 2014-2015 academic year.
An unprecedented total of 612 students cast ballots to select the board that will serve students next year alongside president-elect Jeffrey Scherer and vice-president-elect Cameron Jones.
That board will be composed of winning candidates Brian Clark, Colin Gaudet, Segel Jacob, Alfred Karathra, Hope Krempa, Alice Lee, Jake Reay and Katie Turriff.
Winners were announced on Friday after the polls closed.
The number of candidates was also record-setting, with 15 approved candidates on the ballot. Last year, there were not enough candidates running to hold an election, forcing CSI to recruit students to fill the remaining director positions.
Each student was allowed to vote for up to eight candidates on their ballot – essentially voting for their ideal board. The ballots were online-only in the form of survey links, sent to the college email account of eligible students.
The vote is the latest in a series of political decisions at Conestoga College where student participation has risen.
However, some students were not able to participate because they never received the email, effectively denying them their ballot.
Those who opted out of college survey emails apparently did not receive the link to vote, but according to Andreas Kyriacou of IT’s Web Services team, this impacted only 11 students, and CSI was made aware of this before the vote. For other students who did not receive the email, it was because they were not eligible to vote, according to primary electoral officer Sheena Witzel.
“I think there was a lot of confusion around who was eligible and who was not,” Witzel said an in email. “However, with the voter turnout being higher than average I do feel very confident that the issue was much smaller than it’s being made out to be.”
Witzel said the IT department was able to fully correct an issue that affected 386 students, after which emails were sent out and the voting deadline was extended to accommodate them.
But there are still reports of eligible, full-time students who didn’t receive emails, even in their junk mail folders, despite not having opted out of surveys. If a student had a work email at the college, the survey was sent to that address. This affected 343 students, who may not have been aware this was the case.
Several of the candidates heard similar reports from some students, and expressed their frustration with the issues in the voting process.
“I received messages from three people close to me stating they could not find the email, and heard of many more from other students,” candidate Andrew Leaman said in an e-mail. “Also of note, these students have paid their CSI fees for the semester. The fact they did not get an email is troublesome in my view.” He added that he was “unimpressed and concerned at the electoral process … I am a huge believer in a free, fair and accessible voting process. I do not believe this electoral process suited our needs.”
Zoey Ross, another candidate, said that the handling of the issue by CSI was unacceptable.
“Saying that this ordeal is the college’s fault or an unmanageable technical error is a poor choice. The buck has to stop at CSI’s administration. Students were in their hands to make sure this ran smoothly and democratically. Unfortunately those ends were not met satisfactorily. CSI is now faced with a choice of action.
“I hope they act with integrity and do not sweep this under the rug.”
Ross added that he had personally heard of two students who were eligible but never received emails. He also mentioned that he felt the students most likely to opt out of survey emails were later-year students, and that this could have impacted that group’s representation in the vote.
The CSI Twitter account did tweet reminders about the election, but made no mention of the issues or the decision to extend the voting deadline later on March 28.
In an email Kyriacou said Web Services was responsible for creating the survey and sending out emails while another department in IT called Academic Systems was responsible for getting the list of eligible students after CSI provided the criteria to identify them.
“I personally would like to see that the list of recipients is reviewed well ahead of the vote to ensure its accuracy, keeping in mind that our student population is actively changing,” Kyriacou wrote.
He mentioned that any student who works at the college would have a work email address, which was where their links were sent. This could account for many of the students who were unable to find the email.
Besides the matter of ballots, other issues cropped up during the campaign. Candidate Steve Taylor said the poster policy for candidates was not adhered to.
“I think the election went poorly. Posters were being taken down … some candidates had three to four posters within five feet of each other and were clearly breaking the rules. Some posters were defaced, including mine.”
Taylor also said the rules themselves could have been clearer for students.
“There was a lot of confusion about where and when to vote. Most people check into Desire2Learn without seeing their college email.”
While Leaman, Ross and Taylor expressed their frustrations with how the election was handled, others were more sympathetic.
Candidate Jake Reay, who was one of the eight successful candidates, commended CSI and the college for their handling of the difficulties.
“Overall the election was excellently and professionally executed by CSI and the college. The format and the domain were a new thing to those involved on a higher level than myself so there was a learning curve for us all that was handled expertly,” Reay said.
Brian Clark, another candidate who was elected, said that “it’s difficult to know, however, if this played any part in the results.
He added the decision of students to opt out of college survey emails was beyond the control of the IT department.
Regarding the process, he said, “I don’t think any changes are necessary to the process. I feel as though the process was successful and the hiccups we saw were out of anyone’s control.”
Witzel assured Spoke via e-mail that CSI will learn from this year’s experience.
“The board of directors and the policy committee have been reviewing all of our policies and the elections policies are definitely going to be updated based on review and feedback of this election,” Witzel said.
Despite some of the issues surrounding the election, the successful candidates were eager to get started.
“To my fellow Condors, thank you for believing in me. I am honoured for the opportunity to take CSI and our college experience to the next level,” candidate Katie Turriff wrote in an email.
Reay and Clark were happy with the outcome, but remained self-critical of their campaigns.
“I feel like my campaign went well overall, it was not as active as I would have preferred, but my student presence was acknowledged well,” Clark wrote.
Reay wrote, “I feel like my campaign went very well considering this happened to be my first experience participating in anything remotely political and I was successful in my endeavour. However, I feel like I could have done more but that is a natural part of my character, trying to beat my own personal bests.”
Segel Jacob, another successful candidate, wrote that she is “grateful to everyone at the college who supported me, and to Conestoga College for presenting me with such an opportunity!”
The first step for the newly-elected students is a strategic planning weekend where they will make sure that next year’s budget contains the funding they’ll need to carry out their ideas.
Many of the successful candidates emphasized school spirit in their platforms, and president-elect Scherer and vice-president-elect Jones both ran on platforms that made it a priority. Students attending next year can expect to see some initiatives aimed at creating a greater sense of school unity.
Beyond that, students will have to wait and see what the newly elected board deems CSI’s priorities to be for the 2014-2015 academic year.