It's Election Time - A Guide to Online Student Group Elections

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It's Election Time

A Guide to Online Student Group Elections

Sako Khederlarian, Student Engagement Coordinator, Student Groups & Interfaith


While it feels like the year just began, I know how busy the winter semester is for student group leaders. Juggling the academic expectations of school and managing the day-to-day activities and programs of your group and society is a tremendous amount of work and responsibility. As we move through the semester, student groups begin to think ahead to the next year with a brand-new group of executives and leaders. A democratic process is a fundamental part of our UTM student groups, so allow me to provide you with information on organizing and facilitating the election process virtually.


Chief Returning Officer (CRO) or Senior Election Officer (SEO)

The CRO or SEO (whichever term your group uses) is to supervise and manage all the elements of the election. They are often selected by the executive board and are impartial election supervisors who ensure all the election procedures are adhered to and work to deliver a fair election process.

Your group should select someone who is NOT running in the election. They are often an outgoing member, a faculty liaison, or even a group member who understands the group's constitution and by-laws.

Once the CRO/SEO is selected, they will administer all the elements required for a successful election. This includes:

  • Opening & advertising the nomination process
  • Ensuring all candidates meet the appropriate requirements and deadlines
  • Supervising the campaign period, so members act within the guidelines set in the constitution and by-laws of the group
  • Organizing a virtual all-candidates meeting, speeches, and debate to allow candidates to respectfully share their vision for the group and answer any questions from attendees
  • Preparing the election platform for all members to vote during the scheduled voting period
  • Referring to the UTMSU and the Centre for Student Engagement if there are questions or need additional support
  • Providing the results to the membership and the executive, ready to be ratified

There are tremendous responsibilities for the CRO/SEO throughout the election process, so it is essential to know the procedures, guidelines, and obligations.


Nomination Period

The CRO/SEO should make sure all nominees meet the requirements of your particular group. Some groups allow any member to run for a position, while others have specific requirements set in place (for example, some groups may require at least one year of experience on the group before running for an executive position, etc.) Be sure you are adhering to the requirements set in your constitution/by-laws.


Candidate Information

Your candidates should be aware of the guidelines, timelines, and rules set for the upcoming election. This can be done through an email to all candidates or a virtual meeting for candidates to review the information and have an opportunity to ask questions. Each group is unique, so do what suits the needs of your particular group. Just remember: Each of your candidates must be aware of all rules and guidelines and potential repercussions (including disqualifications) if those guidelines are not adhered to.


Campaign Period

Campaigning includes putting up posters, tabling, and outreach initiatives, along with social media groups. Since in-person campaigning is not possible this year, it is the CRO/SEO's role to guide candidates based on the election guidelines set within your group constitution. Candidates must be aware of spending limits, social media campaign rules, and any limitations to campaigning.

Also, candidates should know the exact dates and times when the campaign period begins and ends.


Candidate Meeting & Debate

Each group may have different ways to facilitate this session, so do what best suits your group. Your candidate meeting and debate is an opportunity for candidates to outline why they want to take on the role and for members to ask questions. These sessions can be organized on Zoom, with the CRO/SEO hosting.

Be sure to set ground-rules before this event, including time-limits and guidelines for appropriate conduct. Debates can get heated, but setting ground-rules ahead of the meeting can better prepare the candidates and members for this event.


Voting Period

The voting period can be open for however long your group feels it needs to allow students the opportunity to vote. Voting periods are typically anywhere from 1-5 days. The voting should be conducted anonymously, with the use of a safe platform.

Some platforms include:

Whichever platform you use, it is imperative the CRO/SEO has a safe and robust process set to make sure:

  • Votes are anonymous
  • Each member only votes once
  • All active members have an opportunity to vote (unless the constitution has specific prerequisites set on voters)


Ratification of Votes

The CRO/SEO would review the votes and report the results to the executive committee (or whatever process your group has to ratify election results and begin the transition process). While this process is often simple, there can be instances where results are challenged due to misconduct. The CRO/SEO is encouraged to reach out to the UTMSU or the Centre for Student Engagement to support this process. While rare, a more in-depth investigation should take place to review the complaints and remedy the situation.

It is recommended that each student group have an Appeals Process that can review and assess the complaints and vote on a solution.

Once this process is complete and a solution has been found, the elected candidates should be ratified by the board. Thus begins the transition process, with group members supporting the new members as they start their new roles.



Elections are a crucially important element to the success of our UTM student groups. While irregularities are rare, all groups are encouraged to prepare a robust process to deal with issues as they arise. The transfer of power to new members and leaders is integral to our campus student groups' health. The Centre for Student Engagement is always available to help any way we can, so please schedule a meeting if you would like to discuss and speak with one of our Student Group Assistants by clicking on STUDENT GROUP ELECTION SUPPORT.