The York Federation of Students (YFS) 2021 elections voting period began today with voting hours running from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day for the rest of the week, except Friday, where voting hours will end at 4 p.m.
According to the YFS website, the elections for the three contested positions will be taking place over Zoom, with an election software called Election Buddy.
The YFS’ Chief Returning Officer (CRO) Rebekah Terpstra states: “This decision was proposed by myself and approved by the 2021 Elections Committee, with student health and safety as our top priority during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Given that elections usually draw large numbers of students for voting days, as well as the fact that most students are not living on/near campus this year, keeping people safely at home instead of gathering on campus was the ideal solution.”
When asked about concerns regarding privacy and accessibility that have arisen at York — and that the YFS themselves have campaigned against it — with other software requiring photo ID verification, Terpstra says, “Photo identification is a requirement in any elections process, and will therefore be implemented in our elections this year as well.”
She adds that she considers this process “vastly different” from computerized photo verification.
Terpstra also explains that clerks have undergone mandatory training to “ensure they understand the live verification process, which includes understanding and respecting any trans, gender non-conforming, or disabled students.”
Only three positions are contested, and therefore undergoing elections: the directors for Schulich, Bethune College, and Winters College. All of the other YFS positions were acclaimed without an election, including the entire Executive Board. Executives secured their positions by acquiring 100 nominations, while directors needed 30 nominations to secure theirs.
Notably, there was no photo ID verification process required for these nominators, unlike with the voters. The nominators ultimately ended up determining the acclaimed candidates without an election, and thereby most of next year’s YFS.
“A live on-camera presence was not required for signing a nomination form, similar to how photo ID is not required for signing nomination forms in a regular election year,” says Terpstra. “All nominators consented their signature through a Google form sent personally by the potential candidate.”
“This is exactly how the process works in a regular election year, except that the signatures were recorded through a Google form rather than a paper form.”
Unlike in previous years, no actual signature is needed on these Google forms — rather, a line is available to type in the name of the nominator.
Terpstra says the names on these forms are “verified by a member of the 2021 elections staff, by cross-checking their student number, name, and constituency via an official voter list that I, the CRO, obtained from York.”
She adds that records of the nominators are available, but only to herself.
This year, the elections and nominations did not appear to have been promoted to the entire student body via e-mail. Instead, notices were posted on the YFS Instagram account, which has approximately 5,000 followers, and updated on the YFS’s own website.
However, York has a student population of approximately 46,900 — meaning that notice of the election potentially only reached just over 10 per cent of the entire student body through those mediums.
Acclaimed VP of Operations Jaskarn Duhra, who serves as the VP of student life on the current YFS, was asked about why the current YFS chose not to market the elections by email at the YFS General Election Candidates Forum on Thursday.
“Something that I have realized during this past year as an executive was that student engagement was overall, in general, kind of lacking — maybe that could be based on capacity and accessibility. I’m not too sure why it wasn’t done — maybe it was due to the bylaws,” he said.
However, Excalibur checked the YFS bylaws and there are no sections that prevent the YFS from doing so. This was corroborated by the CRO, who says she is “not aware of any bylaws preventing the YFS from announcing that elections have started via an email newsletter.”
Duhra added that the newsletter might be an avenue for future promotion to students. “Hopefully next year we can increase engagement when it comes to the activity of students and the YFS’ relationship, so next year students will be able to check out all the amazing positions that they’re able to apply for.”
The YFS newsletter emailed to the student body on February 24, the day that nominations began, contained no mention of the nominations at all.
“It is within the jurisdiction of the CRO and the Elections Committee alone to determine promotional methods. Given that the elections are online this year, the YFS elections website and Instagram were deemed appropriate platforms for election announcements, as they are the most popular platforms,” Terpstra told Excalibur when asked again about the lack of emails.
“The YFS website is consistently updated as information becomes available. Recognizing that this election only consists of three contested positions, we are working with the university to ensure an email is sent to all students within constituencies that are eligible to vote, rather than all 40,000+ students.”
Excalibur reached out to the YFS and the CRO last week for comments pertaining to these issues. Yesterday, on March 15, the YFS sent out an email announcing the voting period had begun for the three contested positions.