The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Fall 2021 Referendum’s results were released on Nov. 15 following a string of technical errors and discrepancies in communication that resulted in widespread confusion. Initially, the voting period was scheduled to start on Nov. 8 and end on Nov. 12. However, a day after the polls were opened, SSMU notified students by email that the original ballot had been replaced with a new ballot, which would be open until Nov. 15 at 17:00.
In an interview with The McGill Tribune, Éric Sader, SSMU’s vice-president (VP) Finance, explained that the initial ballots lacked information about budgetary details for each motion.
“The motions were amended during the Legislative Council to each include the budgets, […] but there was a miscommunication on who was responsible to make sure those budgets were a part of the questions,” Sader said. “We didn’t want people to have voted […] without seeing the budgets, so we had to rerun the referendum.”
Despite the opening of a new ballot, the Fall 2021 Referendum saw a higher voter turnout than the 2020-2021 year. 19.5 per cent of electors cast a ballot this fall, marking a 3.6 per cent increase from the previous Winter 2021 Referendum.
Citing the increase in voter turnout, as well as the increased margins by which the motions passed, Sader believes that the rerun had minimal impact on the outcome of the referendum.
“[The error] was caught relatively early, and generally people who vote in SSMU referendums early are people [who] are very motivated to vote,” Sader said. “My hope is [that] those people were able to vote in the new ballot immediately. I am quite confident that [the results] reflected the desires of the student body.”
In addition to the initial technical problems, a Nov. 15 email from Elections SSMU stated that voting would be open until Nov. 17, even though polls closed on Nov. 15, inciting further confusion among some voters.
Sarah Paulin, SSMU’s VP Internal Affairs, clarified that the email was only sent out to undergraduate students in the Faculty of Arts and directed voters to the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS)’s departmental referendum, which had been mistakenly labeled as the Fall 2021 referendum.
“[The discrepancies in the emails] is a problem, but I do not think it is a problem of that big of a magnitude because there was no [narrow margin of victory] in any of the referendum questions,” Paulin said in an interview with the Tribune. “We will be talking to the AUS, but apart from that we will be keeping the results as it is.”
Sam Lowery, U3 Management, expressed frustration and a lack of trust in SSMU, describing its agenda as irrelevant to the average student.
“I struggle to take SSMU seriously, because to me it’s a bunch of kids who are set on going into government and want to play politician in university,” Lowery said in an interview with the Tribune. “I don’t feel like what SSMU does or how any of the referenda turn out affect my day-to-day life, and honestly I don’t want SSMU to affect my day-to-day life. Good on them for getting the voter turnout to increase, but at the same time I think [the low turnout] is still definitely reflective of a general apathy towards whatever it is [that] [SSMU] is doing.”
Sader acknowledged that the lack of interest from students is a significant issue that SSMU aims to address in order for the society to make decisions with the confidence of its membership.
“There have been a lot of good initiatives from the [Chief of Electoral Office] to try to improve participation [by] making sure that the questions are easily accessible, easily understandable,” Sader said. “At the same time, we need to be realistic in the sense that a lot of students don’t care about [elections and referenda] and that’s fine [because it’s] a student’s right not to care.”