Students feel manipulated in LSU election process
‘They forcefully gave me the VP external’
By: MATEO MUEGO, ERIN CONNERS, THEA CATIPON, CALA ALI
Students seeking to run in the upcoming Langara Students’ Union election are questioning the eligibility process and are concerned about what they call a lack of transparency from LSU staff.
According to students who tried to run for the LSU council in this month’s election, they were excluded from seeking election to positions they wanted and funnelled into back-up positions they showed no qualifications for. There were no reasons given, they said.
“Even if you don’t want that student to be in that position, just let them know why,” said Khushi Salwan, a first-year political science student who went through eligibility screening hoping to run for the role of diversity and inclusion representative.
Students said they submitted the required eligibility package that included a resume and cover letter outlining their qualifications for the primary position they wanted to run for, as well as three references. They also checked off a back-up choice on the package’s application form.
They said they each received an email from the chief returning officer stating they were eligible for their back-up choice. However, there was no mention of the preferred primary position they applied for. They were not told they were eligible or ineligible and no reason was given.
When the students asked for an explanation, they said they didn’t get one.
“They didn’t even try to explain why I can’t stand for that position. I think they should be very much transparent about it,” Salwan said. “I’m just wondering what I have done, what is the problem with [my application] and what could I have done to make myself better.”
Ineligible or intentionally excluded?
Keshav Puri, a first-year business management student, said he applied for the position of vice president finance and administration, which his cover letter and eligibility package focused on.
In emails reviewed by the Voice, chief returning officer Jeannie Bates wrote to Puri saying he was eligible to run for his back-up choice, vice president external affairs – a position Puri himself said he was not qualified for. The email made no mention of whether he was eligible for vice president finance and administration.
“I don’t have any experience in external affair things,” Puri said. “They forcefully gave me the VP external.”
When he wrote to ask why there was no mention of his primary choice, Puri was told the elections committee reviewed his package and decided he was “suited to the position of VP external so that is the position you have been approved for.”
A second email said if Puri did not want to run for that particular position, he was “under no obligation to carry on with the process.”
“I know around at least three to four people who applied for vice president finance and other positions,” Puri said. “But they gave them other positions rather than finance and administration.”
LSU breaches its own policies
The LSU electoral eligibility policy states that the screening process is meant to qualify anyone that meets the minimum requirements for the position. It is “not to screen for the best candidate or candidates.”
“The outcome of the eligibility application will be either ‘eligible’ or ‘ineligible’ to apply for candidacy for the specific position,” the LSU policy says.
This means a student could be deemed eligible for all positions, but then must pick one position to run for — even if there are multiple candidates vying for that role.
“It’s written that they cannot choose a position for us,” Salwan said.
The policy also states that students who are deemed ineligible and want to appeal the decision should “follow the additional steps outlined in their letter of decision from the screening committee and this policy.”
Puri and Salwan said they never received letters saying they were ineligible for their preferred choices.
Stewart Prest, Langara political science instructor, said transparent communication in elections is crucial for upholding trust in the outcome.
He said it is good practice to be upfront about the reasons that somebody is deemed inadmissible as a candidate.
Student unions are legally separate entities from colleges and universities, with a separate governing structure under the jurisdiction of the provincial Societies Act. Langara College president Paula Burns, who has no say over LSU matters but meets with the LSU regularly, said it’s important for students to feel confident in student union elections “because that really is the body that represents them.”
“So I do think it’s important that the students really have some faith in their student union,” Burns told the Voice.
LSU ballot history
In the past three LSU elections, one candidate at most has been on the ballot for each unique office including the president, the four vice presidents, and the representatives for Indigenous students, international students and diversity and inclusion. The four general representative positions only require prospective candidates to be in good standing as students.
The LSU sidestepped a question from the Voice asking how many students applied for positions in past years and how many were deemed ineligible.
“This question is irrelevant for this year’s election,” the LSU media committee responded in an email.
Prest said the issue hinged on whether there is a significant pool of students seeking office being disqualified from the race, leaving only one candidate in the running. He said a reduction in eligible candidates on a regular basis might be a reason for additional inquiry into the election system.
“Why are some of these students being rejected? Is this in fact an open process?” Prest said.
He cautioned that if the eligibility requirement “becomes a way to self-select a set of candidates that are sympathetic to whoever is doing that winnowing,” that becomes a concern whether the process “truly is free and fair and competitive.”
CRO: Chief reclusive officer
According to LSU policies, the chief returning officer, also known as the CRO, is “an impartial, third-party contracted to oversee and ensure the fair, democratic and appropriate electoral and referendum processes.”
However, when the Voice requested an interview with CRO Jeannie Bates through a Gmail account listed on the LSU website, firstname.lastname@example.org, she made it clear she took direction from the LSU.
A reply signed “Jeannie Bates” said, “I’ve just been advised that you are to contact email@example.com as they are the spokespeople for the LSU. Any questions for the CRO have to go through them.”
Other attempts to contact Bates through phone, text, a personal email address and social platforms over a week were unanswered and unacknowledged.
As a result, the Voice was unable to confirm if Bates had authored the response to our request for an interview, or if she even saw it.
CRO delegates to staff and council
The CRO told students in her emails that their eligibility had been determined by the elections committee. This procedure is allowed by LSU policies, which state the CRO may delegate the eligibility screening process to the LSU’s election committee, composed of LSU staff, elected council student members and sometimes approved volunteers.
The LSU has not responded to questions from the Voice about the number of staff versus students on the committee and who was on the committee making eligibility decisions for this month’s election.
— With files from Emily Best and Emma Shular