With various preparations and responsibilities to be performed, the University of Manitoba’s Students’ Union (UMSU) elections create a number of job opportunities for students on campus.
The Chief Returning Officer (CRO), who is selected by a CRO election committee, and then approved by the vote of UMSU council, has the responsibility to hire poll clerks and two deputy returning officers (DRO), all responsible for ensuring a fair and democratic election.
According to Jason van Rooy, the current CRO, when hiring for poll clerks he looks for people who have experience, people skills, attention to detail and basic accounting skills in order to keep track of ballots.
He said some preference is given to international students, since a lot of them can’t work off campus.
“Students who are international students tend to apply in really large numbers. So it’s not that we really have to give them preference [ . . . ] [But], because they can’t work anywhere else, [ . . . ] this is one of the only opportunities they have.”
The CRO must hire DROs to assist the him in the completion of his duties. This year, approximately 12 students applied for the position, which is a volunteer placement with a paid honorarium.
This year, Brett Loewen, a third-year political studies student applied for a DRO position.
Lowen said, “I worked as a poll clerk last year in the elections, [I’m a] politics student, so I study elections all the time. [I’ve] done a little bit of work as a research assistant in the department, so I thought it didn’t hurt to try [for the position].”
However, Loewen found the application process to be unfair.
He complained that the CRO appointed the DRO positions only two days after the application deadline, and held the interviews very close to the exam period. He found this to be an unrealistic amount of time to interview all applicants.
Due to technical difficulties Loewen never received the call that Van Rooy made to him, and therefore Van Rooy continued on with the hiring process without interviewing Loewen.
Loewen said, “I didn’t feel the way they were selected was professional at all. To have a two-day window to interview all candidates for the position is totally unrealistic. It’s on a weekend [ . . . ] It’s also exam period [ . . . ] I questioned whether he has the opportunity to examine the merit of all the applicants.”
He also disagreed with the CRO’s statement to him that the candidates were chosen based on their experience with UMSU or the UMSU election process.
Loewen said, “I think it’s really important that they not have experience with UMSU and they not be affiliated with the people that are going to be running for the election. If we want it to be fair [ . . . ] the CRO should be looking for candidates with as little association as possible with the union.”
Van Rooy reassures the fairness of the elections. He said, “If someone is working in the UMSU office and it’s clearly a conflict of interest, then we won’t consider them for the position.”
He said he has to be very aware of any conflicts of interest because the over-turn of an election costs lots of money.
He continued, “[Loewen] seemed to feel that this was a position that each and every student on campus should have equal opportunity to get as a job, but it isn’t a job — it is an appointment that’s made by the CRO [ . . . ] I think based on our performance so far, it’s evident that I’ve chosen the right people to help me do this job.”
According to the bylaws Van Rooy was not in violation of any policy. The only guideline for the hiring of the DROs provided simply states that the DROs will be appointed by the CRO.
Loewen talked less about not getting the job, but showed concern about the fairness of the hiring process, given such vague bylaws regarding the matter.
Loewen said, “I’m okay with the fact that I didn’t get the job. [ . . . ] It’s really disappointing to me [ . . . ] that they can’t figure out who are the best people for the job and it’s going to hurt our elections.”
“I think that with the amount of responsibility that I have, giving me the freedom to determine who I’m going to work with best is something that you cannot take away,” said Van Rooy, supporting the stated bylaw.
“I’m confident that the turnout in this election will vindicate the fact that we had an excellent election team.”