By: Kieran Douglas

The recent McMaster Students Union presidential election concluded with two of its candidates disqualified, including the president-elect. Rule-breaking among the candidates was so common that Connor Wong, the satirical option, was the only one to abide by them.

Is it the case that this class of presidential candidates fought particularly dirty campaigns? Hardly. An examination of the election night meeting minutes reveals a fleeting glimpse at campaign regulations that seem to nearly guarantee a candidate will blunder into violating at least one of them. The standards by which a candidate will be judged are frustratingly opaque in their public inaccessibility. The “How Do I Run?” guide on the Elections Department’s website states that rules are distributed in the nomination package and recommends candidates become familiar with them, though the website is unclear about where they can be found.

The contents of the meeting minutes from Jan. 25, election night, are alarming. The elections committee sustains a habit of retroactively adding individuals to campaign teams, often resulting in multiple violations and fines levied against candidates for a single event. This happened six separate times across all candidates, even in situations where it was unclear whether the relevant campaign had control over the individuals responsible. Muhammed Aydin, now president-elect, was fined because “an eager friend” posted to a Facebook group in support of him; I fail to see how Aydin was culpable in this case.

Ikram Farah was similarly fined for appearing in the Instagram story of an MSU part-time manager. The individual who posted it was added to the campaign by the electoral committee, who then fined the campaign a second time for employing a PTM not on a leave of absence. Sensible as it is that the Elections Department would be interested in monitoring the social media activity of candidates to ensure a consistently fair competition, it is difficult to ignore the fervent excess with which the Committee motions and unanimously passes fines.

There is also the matter of Rule 7.9.8, which is violated with the “deliberate” violation of any other rule. I presume that it was introduced to deter candidates from simply embracing the various fines they incur, as its conviction entails an additional $30 fine for any offence it is attached to.

However, its use seems to instead normalize the frequency with which the committee charges ambiguously responsible candidates for seemingly minor offences. The existence of a rule that distinguishes some violations as ‘deliberate’ implies that a lack of culpability is no defence even while it can be used in prosecution. This judiciary double standard ensures that candidates may be fined when fault is not theirs, and that they will be fined more heavily when it is.

While a functional system of regulation and adjudication is an intrinsic virtue, the behaviour of the Electoral Committee has real consequences. Though her violations in part seem more serious than those of the other candidates, Ikram Farah won the vote and was disqualified days later. The decision of the Electoral Committee in this case obscures the ostensibly democratic will of the MSU. Whether Farah deserved this fate or not, this decision should never be taken lightly, and the saturation of severe violations this election cycle suggests that sometimes it might be. Furthermore, though individual violations usually incur fines between $15 and $30, those charges can easily snowball, especially given the tendency of the Committee to “double-up” offences.

In the face of such a rule-breaking epidemic, it is worthwhile to consider that the rules and their application might be the cause. This evidence shows that reform is necessary for both the maintenance of democracy and the sake of student candidates. The campaign rules should be revised and published, as the students of the MSU deserve transparency, efficiency and sensibility in their elections.

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While I have written about how we should be expecting campaigns on campus to follow the rules, a larger problem exists. What if the rules need reform?

Having odd rules does not excuse a candidate from not reading the rules, intentionally breaking them or their inability to run a disciplined campaign team. But regardless of how all of these recent appeals for the McMaster Students Union president-elect turn out, there should be a re-evaluation of what is necessary to keep in the rules and a consistent system that serves to better represent the severity of each violation.

There are a few different approaches to how violations have been approached over the years.

One example of this is rule 5.1., which reads, “Materials may not possess any logo(s) of the MSU, McMaster University, or McMaster University recognized groups”. This is a standard violation.

In 2016, a cooperative approach was used when Mike Gill was tagged in a photo of someone wearing an MSU Spark shirt. This was deemed to be in violation of the rules for the usage of an MSU logo. The Chief Returning Officer warned Gill about the situation, Gill replied that the person was not on their campaign team and the CRO added that it was still their responsibility to ask the individual to take the photo down, which it was. The motion to fine Gill failed.

In that same year, Justin Monaco-Barnes uploaded a campaign video filmed in the Underground that had the MSU and Child Care logos visible. The CRO notified Monaco-Barnes, and the team put a “censored patch” over it. Two motions passed: the first was related to 5.1., and the second was for inappropriate use of MSU resources.

It is also worth noting that Gill’s violation had to do with a non-participating member posting an MSU logo and Monaco-Barnes’ violation came from his campaign team. This election also featured a ruling that dismissed a complaint against Jonathon Tonietto as they could not verify if someone using Snapchat was on his campaign team.

2018 featured a different approach according to the Jan. 25 minutes. The CRO emailed all candidates stating that all logos needed to be blurred. This came up in Rabeena Obaidullah’s violations when a campaign team member wore a McMaster sweater in their photo on the campaign website and in the team photo. This resulted in a 5.1. ruling, and a severe violation for deliberately breaking a rule.

The 2018 election also featured multiple rulings that added non-participating members to campaign teams, then passing violations on those teams.

The actions of members added to Aydin’s team resulted in one standard violation. Multiple standard violations and one severe violation were added for Farah because of members added to the team by the committee and multiple standard violations were added for external endorsements. One additional standard violation was added for retweeting a non-MSU member’s endorsement, which is fair. Multiple standard violations and one severe violation were added to Odaidullah because of members added to the team or friends of the candidate.

Inconsistencies when it comes to the communication of violations with the candidates and the rulings on those violations and on non-campaigning members have led to this year being strange when it comes to rulings.

In 2016, you could be relatively sure that all of the violations against Sarah Jama, who was disqualified and later reinstated after appeals, were from her or her campaign team. Her disqualification and reinstatement went through a process that evaluated her designated team’s ability to follow the rules, and uphold the integrity of the campaigning period. This year has been questionable whether Farah and Obaidullah deserve to be disqualified on their own merits or if they were disqualified thanks to things that were out of their control.

These different approaches to interpreting the rules should be clarified and overhauled to allow for each year to be judged similarly. There should be no questions about whether the subjective interpretations by the elections committee in a particular year have significantly influenced the election results or fines levied.

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Compiled by Farzeen Foda, Alex Rockingham and Karianne Matte


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