In a stunning reversal, Samer Sleiman admitted Thursday to tampering with votes in the Students’ Union election, hours after dropping his second disqualification appeal amid new allegations of fraudulent voting tactics.
In a sit-down interview, a stoic, soft-spoken Sleiman repeatedly cited his “carelessness” for the mounting controversy that has embroiled the executive election since his ouster Friday.
When asked whether he tampered with votes, Sleiman paused before conceding. “After reading the emails, I believe that I did, although it was an act of carelessness on my part.”
The emails, detailed in the Chief Returning Officer’s second ruling against Sleiman, brought forward 10 students who largely condemned the Vice-President (Operations and Finance) candidate for stripping them of their ballot.
Upon reading the fourth email Thursday, Sleiman said he knew he had to concede.
“I’m feeling a little bit at peace,” Sleiman said hours later. “I felt like I was almost in a war zone.”
In the message that triggered his decision to quit, a student told CRO Jessica Nguyen that Sleiman had approached them in CAB to show them how to vote.
“He lent me his phone and I typed in my CCID and he took care of the rest,” the student wrote.
“I did not press the buttons myself or see the ballot. I also did not log out.”
More damning allegations emerged from other students.
One student admitted to being anxious that Sleiman had the information to access their confidential Bear Tracks and eClass accounts.
Another recalled trying to cast a vote for presidential candidate Navneet Khinda before Sleiman pulled the phone away and said “no, no, no.”
Sleiman said he couldn’t remember the exchange about Khinda, but said there was no reason not to vote for the now president-elect.
“I talked to 300 students over those two days,” he said. “I can’t remember every specific thing.”
Sleiman said he secured the consent of every student whose ballot he cast and stood by their side as he voted. He defined consent as the student having verbally agreed to vote for him.
But Sleiman declined to disclose what took place after students entered their personal information on his cell phone. He also would not reveal the other candidates he voted for on the ballots he cast.
Sleiman said none of his campaign volunteers knew about his strategy, although the tenth student in the ruling alleged they were approached by a member of Sleiman’s team.
But Sleiman ultimately admitted that he should have been disqualified.
“I don’t think I should represent a body where students believed they were wronged in the voting process.”
When Nguyen revealed her intent to disqualify Sleiman a second time Wednesday, Sleiman deemed it a personal attack.
He shot back with a formal complaint that slammed Nguyen for abusing her power and showing a “deep disregard” for the SU’s judicial process.
On Thursday, he shifted his tone.
“One person I must apologize to is Jessica Nguyen,” Sleiman said. “I thought she was a very fair CRO and I think we need to start a new page.”
Following Sleiman’s concession, Nguyen said that justice had prevailed, but called the experience disappointing.
“I have nothing against Sam as a person. I like him a lot. I just have to do my job,” she said.
“I didn’t go into managing this election wanting to disqualify anyone. I don’t think any CRO wants to disqualify anyone.”
Sleiman repeatedly apologized to the U of A student body and asked them to have faith in the Students’ Union.
He also congratulated his opposing candidate Cody Bondarchuk, who secured 79 per cent of the votes in the VP (Operations and Finance) race against None of the Above.
“Cody ran one of the cleanest campaigns I’ve ever seen,” Sleiman said.
As the focus shifts to mending an election that the CRO called tainted, Sleiman acknowledged he faces his toughest battle yet.
“There’s a famous quote that says, ‘It takes 30 seconds to destroy trust and 20 years to regain it,’” he said.
“And my next step is regaining trust with people, whether it takes five minutes for some or 50 years with others.”