Rules and procedures regarding student union elections at U of T Scarborough have changed. A new system of campaigning and representation known as “slating” gives candidates the choice to run either individually or as a group. Slating at UTSC has been disallowed till now, but the policy has been in effect for years at both the Mississauga and St. George campuses, leading some to wonder about the sudden change.
“Part of the problem at UTSC has been that you have many individuals with ideas, but the problem is putting ideas together to create a collective vision,” said fourth-year student Aly Kassam, the editor-in-chief of UTSC’s campus publication, The Underground.
According to the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union executive elections information package, slating allows teams to produce a “collective vision about the organization and what they would like to do for the students”.
Whereas executive positions (president, vice-president student and equity, vice-president academics and vice-president external) were once elected individually, they can now band together and form a “slate”.
“UTSC is notorious for voter apathy,” said Kassam. “In the four years I’ve been here, I think there was only one year—2009 to 2010—where the voter turnout was higher than usual, and this was right after Zuhair Syed was impeached as president.”
That public disgrace may have had a lasting effect, as evidenced by the fact that this year only one slate is available for students to vote for. However, it does not dissuade those who feel like the policy change can only increase student engagement.
“The slating process creates more buzz and excitement,” said Abdalla Al-Baalawy, the current VP external and presidential candidate of the sole slate, named Forward Together.
While the move may enable candidates to reach more people, it may be unable to combat the indifference of voters. Despite the prevalence of slating at UTM, student engagement and voter turnout has been low. In the spring 2010 elections, voter turnout was at a dismal 20%. It increased to roughly 26% the following year. Regardless of these numbers, the slate system appears to produce a 100% incumbency turnover rate.
Gilbert Cassar, the current president of UTMSU, ran as part of the slate Students First for the UTM elections of spring 2011. Before that, he ran as VP internal and services with the slate Students United. In both cases, all candidates under the banner were elected to office.
“In the spring 2010 election there was strong competition between Students United and another slate called UTM Renew,” said Cassar. “It was very exciting. That’s the kind of election you want: exciting and engaging.”
According to the UTMSU elections procedure code, candidates get in based on a “plurality of the votes cast”. Instead of a majority, which requires a minimum number of votes, candidates get elected simply if more people say yes than no. But the slate system builds on this simplicity by presenting unique problems, such as slates developing around race.
“Another negative consequence, which I think is already taking place during the campaigns for the upcoming election, is the slates overshadowing candidates,” said Kassam. “[They] have to work twice as hard to have their voice heard. A voter might decide to vote for a candidate simply based on the fact that they are voting for another member of the same slate, not because they believe they are a better candidate.”
The move raises questions regarding responsibility.
“I think that the buck stops with the voter. [They] decide if they want to support a team with united values or an individual with exceptional points. In that way, I think slating is democratic,” said Cassar.
Democratic or not, problems can arise if individual members who are not part of slates get elected into office. But that does not appear to concern Al-Baalawy.
“Even if someone doesn’t get voted in, we can still work as a team,” he said. “We are more than happy to work with anyone who comes in.”
[CORRECTION NOTICE: The quote “Another negative consequence…” was mistakenly attributed to Gilbert Cassar. This has been amended to reflect the quote’s originator, Aly Kassam. We apologize for any confusion.]