Fall referendum nullified, AMS says

Journal File Photo

AMS President Kanivanan Chinniah has confirmed that the fall referendum has been nullified after doubts arose surrounding the status of the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO).

(See our previous coverage.)

He made the announcement at AMS assembly on Nov. 19, 13 days after the referendum period ended on Friday, Nov. 6. Nine days before the announcement, the AMS assembly voted to nullify the referendum in closed session on Nov. 10, according to student clubs contacted by the AMS about the decision.

The fees on the ballot for the fall referendum will instead be moved to the winter referendum, according to Chinniah’s statement. 

“On Monday, November 9, 2015, the Executive was notified by a participant in the Fall Referendum of concerns with regards to the status of the Chief Electoral Officer,” Chinniah stated in an AMS press release. 

The AMS’s CEO oversees elections and is the final authority on the interpretation of AMS elections policy and procedure. 

As part of the role, the CEO makes calls on whether something is or isn’t appropriate during campaign periods. 

“Upon consultation with the University Registrar, the AMS determined that the Chief Electoral Officer was ineligible to hold their position during the Fall Referendum Period,” Chinniah stated. 

Sarah Letersky, the current vice president (university affairs), dismissed the CEO, as she was the interim Commissioner of Internal Affairs at the time. According to the AMS press release, Letersky dismissed the CEO based on policies set out in Section 2.02 of the AMS Hiring & Appointments Policy & Procedures Manual.

Chinniah didn’t state whatmade the CEO ineligible, although Leah Kelley, co-chair of Queen’s Backing Action on Climate Change (QBACC), said the AMS informed her that the officer had not paid their student fees. This would make the CEO technically not a member of the AMS.

A Special Assembly was called on Nov. 10 under emergency provisions to notify assembly of the issue in closed session. 

“The decision to enter closed session was made given the discussion involved AMS personnel, which is a best practice to protect the individual,” Chinniah said during assembly.

“Assembly expressed that a different Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) could have made different rulings which might have substantially affected the results of the referendum process.”

Three options were considered: affirm the referendum results, nullify the results of fee questions where the vote outcome was decided within a small margin or nullify the results of the fall referendum altogether.

To protect “the integrity of an election where the Chief Electoral Officer did not hold AMS membership”, the Assembly passed a motion to nullify the results of the 2015 fall referendum, and allow the questions to be placed on the 2016 winter referendum.

AMS executive members didn’t vote on the motion, according to the AMS. Chinniah said the decision was made in closed session due to potential legal concerns.

“Throughout the course of notifying the fee groups, we were notified by a group which had participated in the fall referendum process was considering legal action against the AMS,” Chinniah stated.

“Therefore… we delayed the publication of the announcement in order to seek legal advice as to the authority of the Assembly to make this decision.” 

Jon Wiseman, commissioner of internal affairs, notified clubs of the decision. Those who could not be informed by phone were sent an email, and all parties were asked to keep the information confidential, Chinniah said. 

Kelley — the QBACC co-chair who learned about the decision through a phone call from Wiseman — said she’s disappointed with the lack of transparency in the decision process.

“In a closed session, there is no record of what conversation took place, and that leaves a lot of speculation obviously that can be made about what happened,” she said. 

“They would have been the primary source of information for the entirety of the discussion, with no external bodies present to provide a varying perspective to encourage a discussion.”

In an earlier interview with The Journal, Kelley said she’s concerned for clubs that would have won a fee during the fall referendum, but could lose in the winter referendum if a “no” campaign emerged to oppose their fee.

“It’s really frustrating [for new clubs] because it takes a lot of resources [to campaign],” Kelley said at the time. “Obviously you get a budget to campaign from the AMS, and that’s great, but it still takes time and human resources to campaign like that and to try and make the student body aware of your fee.”

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