On Nov. 17, Elections SSMU, the body that oversees SSMU voting procedures, announced the Daily Publication Society’s (DPS) successful existence referendum results, which showed an irregularly low voter turnout from Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) members. The successful vote ensured that the DPS, which publishes both Le Délit and The McGill Daily, will continue to collect non-opt outable student fees to operate for the next five years. But according to PGSS Financial Affairs Officer Matthew Satterthwaite, 1000 graduate students’ names were missing from the list of students that Elections SSMU emailed the referendum poll to. These students were thus not informed of the upcoming to vote.
“I do not believe this mistake [of not including PGSS members] was intentional, as the DPS did not know how to properly administer a referendum,” Satterthwaite said. “Groups seeking an official PGSS referendum must go through the PGSS Council. The PGSS effectively had no idea this referendum was happening until the ballot came out.”
Previous PGSS referenda have maintained a voter turnout rate of 14 per cent or higher. However, according to the Elections SSMU email on Nov. 17 announcing the DPS referendum results, 725 out of the 7,636 graduate students voted, a turnout rate of nine per cent. Satterthwaite noted that the percentage of graduate students who voted on the DPS referendum is even lower because not all members of PGSS are eligible to vote on DPS affairs.
“If you look at the voter breakdown in the email that was sent, it says there are about 7,600 registered PGSS [members], but we’re actually closer to 8,600 members,” Satterthwaite said. “The membership of the PGSS is not exactly the membership of the DPS.”
Satterthwaite believes that PGSS voters were also unaware about the upcoming referendum because the DPS did not present at the PGSS Legislative Council. However, the society was under no obligation to present at Council, since its referendum was not under PGSS.
“[The executives] had no idea that graduate students would be voting for [the DPS existence referendum], so most other graduate students wouldn’t have known,” Satterthwaite said. “Normally, [referenda] are brought up at our Council, so that the [Post-Graduate Student Associations] PGSAs can transmit the information beforehand. The PGSS [executives] and our Council were not informed about [the referendum], and so that whole line of communication was cut.”
The low voter turnout followed Elections SSMU’s choice to restart voting after the first day on Nov. 13. During the referendum, the DPS accidentally provided Elections SSMU with an outdated list of PGSS members eligible to vote from the summer, which excluded graduate students who enrolled for the Fall 2017 semester. As a result, Elections SSMU suspended the original ballot and created a new one using an updated list of eligible PGSS voters that the DPS supplied.
SSMU Deputy Elections Officer Isaac Levy, who supervises SSMU electoral officers and administers elections and referenda, first noticed the problem with the email list.
“From what we have observed and heard from some students who contacted us, some of the PGSS members did not receive emails from our Simply Voting email blasts when the mass emails were sent out,” Levy said. “We are currently looking into the matter from our end to figure out why this may be.”
In an email to The McGill Tribune, Marc Cataford, chairperson of the DPS Board of Directors, explained that a number of accidental factors resulted in an incomplete PGSS voter list.
“The error itself is a mix of a total absence of institutional memory on referenda on our end [and] on Elections SSMU’s end, and after talking with someone from PGSS, they didn’t seem to know the specifics of how it really worked either,” Cataford wrote. “In any case, at no point was there foul play and the error was not of bad faith. The second I was notified of the error, I got in communication with PGSS, with Election SSMU, and with people at McGill to […] make sure that the election can be conducted in a fair manner that gives all of our membership a voice.”