Election bylaws: change with care

By Вen Li

On Tuesday, the Students’ Legislative Council once again could not approve election bylaw amendments, but this time for lack of quorum rather than for political bickering.

The current election bylaws, for better or for worse, have been the most durable piece of legislation known to the SU, withstanding a dozen amendment attempts in the last year. Knowing this, the Students’ Legislative Council has begun a multi-phase effort to revamp election-related legislation one piece at a time, with the consultation of many interested parties.

The first round of amendments, ostensibly to address the re-emergence of party politics in the General Election earlier this year, have passed first reading, but could not pass on Tuesday for want of quorum.

The second round of amendments, discussion of which also began on Tuesday, concerns the SU judicial system and seeks to speed the resolution of disputes arising from election conduct.

Together, these revisions will hopefully result in a smoother election process which all participants feel is just. This is no small task, considering the contentiousness of each of the past four elections.

To leave a cast of over 30 new officials wondering if their election will be sustained, a situation that arose in February, is unacceptable to both voters and office-holders.

Two related solutions are being discussed: To enhance the powers of the Chief Returning Officer and to change the nature of election bylaw enforcement.

The current CRO has only limited powers to rectify bylaw infractions as they occur, but no power to impose substantial penalties or disqualify candidates. New bylaws propose to have a decision by election staff within eight hours of being notified of a violation, and would contain the entire appeal process in the following eight hours. This would greatly hasten the resolution of election bylaw infractions by taking most conflicts out of the Review Board. It would also lessen the uncertainty that some elected officials faced in the last two general elections.

The second solution, issuing demerit points or fines against offending campaigns, are a mixed proposition. The University of Alberta SU fines candidates for infractions committed during elections, and other universities allot candidates a certain number of points which are lost when minor violations are discovered. This immediacy of response and enforcement seems somewhat successful elsewhere, but these solutions set thresholds for the amount of violations a campaign can incur before being disqualified.

This disadvantages non-cheating candidates who choose not to use their allotted maximum number of violations, and also creates an enforcement requirement which is not met by the current CRO infrastructure.

While it is commendable that the SU seeks to make their elections more democratic, the amendment process must be a measured one which produces something better than the present condition.

In the rush to close exploitable loopholes discovered in last Fall’s byelection, a bylaw amendment process began which proposed an arguably superior bylaw, but one which many SLC members did not support.

For many months thereafter, the election bylaw amendment repeatedly reared its ugly head and came to symbolize legislative dysfunction.

Hopefully the current council members learned something from their predecessors.

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