UTMAC election under cloud of suspicion

The election for the UTM Athletic Council concluded on March 26 with more than a fair share of controversy and uncertainty. The election pitted three teams against each other — Mac Attack led by presidential candidate Yogan Sivanathan, Big Mac led by current UTMAC President Andrew Lalla, and Blue Print led by current Director of Intramurals Ashley Nguyen.

For the first time in years, a UTM based election ended with split winners from two opposing tickets — Mac Attack (3 members) and Blue Print (4 members), prompting the possibility that this years election is perhaps the closest electoral race in a long time. The presidential race was won by Blue Prints Nguyen, who finished with 646 votes, a mere 67 votes ahead of Sivanathan.

However, amidst the tight affair, several issues have been raised — most notably from team Mac Attack — with regards to the process of the election. In fact, all three teams have reportedly submitted appeals to the elections committee late last week. The most significant of the complaints come from team Mac Attack, with Sivanathan claiming discrepancies in the voting, campaigning, and ballot-counting process of the elections.

According to Sivanathan, and later confirmed by parties of all three teams and the Chief Returning Officer (CRO), Safia Farouk, sixteen voters reportedly double-voted during the elections. The error, which according to Farouk is something that occurs during all elections every year, took place at the CCIT and South Building polling stations after poll clerks failed to mark the back of the T-cards belonging to the students who voted. Farouk and her Deputy Returning Officer (DRO), Dhananjai Kohli, discovered the error during the ballot-counting process which took place on March 27.

Its a human error that we cant always prevent from happening, said Farouk who also noted that because none of the winning margins were higher than 59, the 16 votes would not have affected the outcome of the results anyway. The 16 double votes were not rendered void as it could not be determined who specifically voted twice. We [the CRO and DRO] verified the lists from all the polling stations and found that double voting did occur. This was actually a new practice put in place for the first time this year; this was the first elections where the process of double-checking the lists came into play, explained Farouk, who went on to cite that the move was all for the purpose of a more accountable process.

Another more controversial issue raised by Team Mac Attack was the fact that more than two authorized personnel, i.e. the CRO and DRO, were involved in the counting of the ballots. Before the ballot-count, Safia and I agreed that there would be no more than herself and the DRO counting the ballots, explained Sivanathan. Later on, I learned from my appointed scrutiner that she had hired a three to five people to help with the counting.

In response to the claim, Farouk defended her actions, citing that it wouldve taken up to five days of counting if it had just been her and the DRO counting the votes. Farouk maintained that while she did not confer or discuss the move with Sivanathan or any of the other candidates, she did not have to do so. Members of the elections committee were present in the room along with the hired personnel when the ballotcounting was going on. The process was still very accountable, insisted Farouk who added that two sets of teams were called on to go through each and every ballot — one who read, and one who verified. We basically double-checked and verified the entire process, declared Farouk.

Sivanathan however, noted that while this not only went against what was initially agreed, he also felt that the last minute change of process was inconsistent with the dealings of the ballot-count. What also puzzles me is that she [Farouk] knew about the high number of votes before the counting took place. Why didnt she prepare for such a measure beforehand? That way, we wouldve at least been informed, he said.

Furthermore, he notes that one of the members of the personnel called in to aid with the counting was a member of the Muslim Students Association (MSA) executive board — a conflict of interest considering that one of the candidates on (his own) Mac Attack ticket was also a member of the MSA exec board (Fahad Tariq).

Even though this appeared as a bias for us rather than against, the point is that the process became questionable overall, commented Sivanathan. I dont want the election results changed or anything — I dont have any ill-feelings towards the results; I just want to bring this up so that people are aware of the weak internal controls and the political aspect of the whole thing. From the start, this election has not been organized and run properly.

Yet another internal discrepancy revealed by Sivanathan during the elections period dealt with the miscommunication with regards to the candidates debate scheduled for March 24 at 2 p.m. at the Blind Duck Pub, the day before voting stations opened. According to Sivanathan, his team was never formally informed, either through email or phone call, about the debate session in time. We were notified about it during the First Candidates Meeting, but the timing was never confirmed. We were told that we would be clarified of this closer to the date, but never received any notification till the day before, explains Sivanathan.

Farouk meanwhile maintains that the candidates were verbally informed of the exact time and place during the weekend before. This however, is more open-ended than it seems, especially as Ashley Nguyen from the Blue Print ticket claims that there was indeed an email sent out to all candidates stipulating the time and place of the debate. We were all there [at the pub] but no one else showed up. But I guess we were just a little more proactive than the rest — they knew about it; they just chose not to come, said Nguyen who insisted that she knew for a fact that members of Mac Attack were aware of the details of the debate through a group email.

While Sivanathan denies ever receiving such an email, he does admit to knowing, through word of mouth, of the debate the day before. Yes, we heard about it. But it was through the members of the other opposing teams, not through CRO herself, which shouldve been the case, he explained. And by the time we got the info so last minute, we couldnt possibly rearrange our busy schedules in time to prepare for it.

As a result of the confusion, the candidates debate never took place. Im sure the debate wouldve played a major factor in the course of the elections, commented Sivanathan. I think its safe to say that the results might have even turned out differently if it had taken place. This is just another example of the CROs poor organization of things.

Nguyen and her team have also filed for appeals regarding two minor issues — none of them coinciding with any of Mac Attacks concerns. We didnt ask for a re-election — there was no reason to. Everything was run fairly and dealt with eventually from our perspective. As for the CRO, I guess she couldve been more available, but the elections was nonetheless clearly a success; over 1,000 students votes — one of the highest voter turnouts ever, commented Nguyen.

Farouk, herself a former elected UTMAC president, insisted that a fair election has always been a top priority for her. This election is probably the most legit. One ticket didnt sweep the proceedings, and I think that speaks a lot for the process and its accountability, she said. Whats more, weve had more positive comments about it than complaints.

The appeals from all three teams, including Big Mac, have since been dismissed on fair grounds by Farouk and the elections committee. No members of Big Mac could be reached for comment at press time.