Following a nine-day deliberation period, the University Students’ Council (USC) Appeal Board overruled the USC’s recent executive election results, disqualifying incoming presidential candidate, fourth-year Political Science student Jack Litchfield, and his team. The ruling means Sophie Helpard, a third-year Political Science student at Huron University College, becomes the next USC president.
“Team Litchfield won the election by 32 votes, but a series of allegations were made saying they violated the rules, leading the (elections) committee to give them 30/31 demerit points – 31 is an automatic disqualification,” said Matt Helfand, current USC president.
“This was the closest election we’ve ever had,” he added.
Helfand noted Team Litchfield’s demerit points were a result of a series of violations of the USC’s thorough, perhaps “over-prescriptive,” election policy. The broken rules included wearing campaign materials in the USC office; campaigning once the voting period started; and unsolicited distribution of campaign materials.
“Our Elections Committee worked for three weeks and did a thorough job to determine how many demerit points to give. Team Sophie was dissatisfied and took this to the Appeal Board,” he explained.
The appeal took place in an open hearing the last weekend of March. It was a three-hour hearing that heard from Team Sophie and Team Litchfield, as well as the USC’s Elections Committee.
The Appeal Board was given two weeks to give a written decision, Helfand said, and the final word, released Tuesday night, indicated there should have been an increase in demerit points assigned to Team Litchfield on the basis that they trespassed on an off-campus residence when campaigning. This resulted in a higher demerit point assignment, and therefore, disqualification, making Team Sophie the de facto winner of the election.
Team Sophie released a statement following the decision:
“We would like to thank the Appeals Board for their diligent work in considering our appeal. This appeal was submitted to ensure that the value of fairness was upheld during these elections, and that the future of the USC would not be overshadowed with a question mark of the legitimacy of the election.”
The overturning of election results wasn’t the only first for the USC this year, Helfand noted. The Appeals Board, in and of itself, is a first.
“At the beginning of my term, we realized we didn’t have an appeals process. If an appeal came, in any case like the elections committee, it would have gone directly to the USC executive. This is a problem – it’s like (Stephen) Harper adjudicating Elections Canada,” Helfand explained.
As a result, the USC implemented a new bylaw calling for an Appeal Board, a body comprised of a group of students selected by a committee of council members and representatives from the board of directors. Many of the students are Western Law students, Helfand said, who bring a critical, legal eye to the process.
“On the one hand, we were lucky to have this. On the other hand, we were expecting this to get maybe a couple club appeals this year, before it got off the ground. But the very first thing to happen was this (election overturning). I’m still very surprised,” he continued.
“It was spurring that we would have this close an election and that our Appeals Board faced the ultimate challenge. We’re looking very closely at election policies going forward. My biggest concern right now is that people have faith in the USC as a body that can represent them.”