It all comes down to posts in a secret soph Facebook group. 

After the DiBrina hearing on Tuesday, the USC Appeals Board immediately dismissed five of the six petitions against Team Tobi. 

The remaining appeal — appeal four — involves the social science head soph's posts in her team's Facebook group. 

Team DiBrina's argument is that the soph's posts violated the USC's benefits acquired by virtue of office bylaw.

As a head soph having administrative oversight over the group, showing a "clear preference for Team Tobi" while encouraging the soph team and frosh to vote was problematic. The soph further commented "#TEAMTOBI" when another soph posted in the group asking others to vote in the election, according to the appeal. 

The bylaw states: "Candidates and campaign volunteers are not entitled to use in their campaign any service or tangible benefits conferred on them by virtue of any position in any organization on campus. This includes, but is not limited to, mailing lists, office space, office supplies, equipment, advertising space, and secretarial services."

The Elections Governance Committee (EGC) didn't think it was an issue. They also didn't believe that the head soph was a volunteer with Team Tobi. 

The EGC's response read: “The EGC has come to the conclusion that the posts made by sophs in their respectful groups do not warrant further investigation. It is the EGC's findings that neither [redacted] nor [redacted] are volunteers of Team Tobi, and thus Team Tobi cannot be held responsible for their actions. The EGC believes that Team Tobi could not have reasonably foreseen that these individuals would post in their soph Facebook group. Due to the fact that these individuals are not campaign volunteers, section 11.4 can not be applied.”

But Team DiBrina argued that the soph was indeed a team volunteer. She had shared two campaign-related articles, changed her cover photo to "I'm Voting Team Tobi" twice and publicly endorsed Team Tobi. They further added that Tobi Solebo and the soph had a pre-existing relationship stemming from O-Week. 

The social science soph team has approximately 90 people and is involved with over 1,500 first-year students. The soph's behaviour on the group could have had a significant impact on the results of the election, Team DiBrina argues. 

Team Tobi currently sit at 26 demerit points, five away from disqualification. 

Team DiBrina recommended the Appeals Board charge Team Tobi with a major violation — anywhere between five and eight demerit points — which will take them over the threshold for disqualification. 

The Appeals Board has other options too. It could charge the Team Tobi with a minor violation — up to four points — which takes them to a maximum of 30 demerit points, one short of disqualification. 

Or the Appeals Board could still dismiss the appeal altogether and Team Tobi will remain where they were at the end of the election. 

At the beginning of the hearing, USC President Eddy Avila, acting as an intervenor, spoke against disqualification. He said it will disenfranchise the 49.3 per cent of voters who supported Team Tobi in the election. The chair of the USC board of directors concurred. 

Another intervenor, a club president, reiterated Avila's comments but focused more on clubs and their right to endorse. 

Towards the end of the hearing, the appeals panel asked the Chief Returning Officer about what impact the demerit points could have on the election. They were told that five points would take Team Tobi over the edge. 

It's likely that the Appeals Board is wary of the outcome of their decision.

Disqualifying a winning presidential slate is a big decision to make — especially within two years of a similar case

Does a head soph's post really have the potential to swing an election which was won by a 1,000 votes? Will the other 90 sophs, who are often more involved in the elections process than the average student, really be swayed by one person's posts? Is being administrator of a Facebook group akin to having a mailing list which would constitute an abuse of office?

I certainly don't think so. Multiple other faculty presidents, head sophs and affiliate presidents have endorsed candidates before. So should we go around handing the slate a major violation every time any of them decide to post in a secret Facebook group of which they might be an admin?

The other group members clearly saw the head soph supporting Team Tobi — just like everyone else added to her Facebook account. Automatically assuming that the sophs would be more influenced by the posts in their group is not giving them enough credit. 

And do sophs really talk to their frosh all that much? Most sophs are great and very much in touch with their frosh. But some, like a few involved with my floor in first year, never really visited or communicated with their frosh. Even the ones that do keep in touch don't always discuss USC elections with their frosh. 

Being admin of a Facebook group really isn't like having a special mailing list. Sophs are prominent student leaders and posting in a group where there is 90 of them isn't really having any special access. Comparing abusing one's position to commenting "#TeamTobi" is a stretch to say the least. Was it dumb? Probably. People should be more aware of their audience when posting on social media. But the head soph won't be the first to make that mistake and it does not warrant a major violation. 

We'll know in two weeks if Tobi Solebo and Landon Tulk will be leading the USC next year. Until then, we wait.  

Hamza is the editor-in-chief for Volume 110 of the Gazette. Previously, he was the breaking news editor for Volume 109, news editor for Volume 108 and staff writer for Volume 107. Contact Hamza at editor@westerngazette.ca.

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