The current USC election drama has put its election bylaw in the spotlight.
The election procedures and protocol listed in USC’s bylaw 2 acts as guidelines for campaigning slates and candidates. Most of the prohibited actions are considered necessary to create an even playing field for all candidates.
As appeals filed by second-place slate Team DiBrina are set to take place soon, here are how rules play out at a few other student unions in Canada.
Violations and demerit points
Team Tobi has racked up a total of 26 demerit points during the campaign period. They’ve been penalized for using the colour purple and posting in various inactive Facebook groups. Team Jan/Mohammad was penalized for liking and sharing a Gazette article before the campaign started.
The colour purple is not allowed in any USC campaign material because it is associated with the University and the USC, and it is based off the belief that it has the potential to sway voters.
As far as student union elections surveyed go, the USC is the only body that prohibits a specific use of colour. None of the other universities forbid the use of specific colours.
There is some perceived inconsistency in awarding demerit points during the USC election campaign. This year, science councillor candidate Grace Zhu picked up two demerit points for using purple in a shared Facebook photo while Team Tobi received four for using students dressed in purple in a campaign video. The elections governance committee determines the number of points based on the perceived influence of the social media post. The difference resulted because Team Tobi’s post was deemed to have reached more students than Zhu’s.
To control for this inconsistency, other Canadian school unions clearly outline the amount of demerit points that is associated with a violation.
Waterloo’s Federation of Students (FED) and the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) have included a table in their election procedure documents that lists a violation as well as the respective number of demerit points that should be docked.
Other universities, such as the University of British Columbia’s Alma Mater Society (AMS) and McMaster’s Student Union (MSU), don’t include demerit point tables but outline what students can and can’t do, followed with possible consequences.
For example, according to UBC’s AMS elections code of procedure under section IX, small offences may warrant withdrawal of one or more of the candidate’s campaign rights, such as the right to use posters on campus.
The MSU enforces strict limits on social media campaigning, specifying that only Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube can be used. Candidates are also prohibited from campaigning in Facebook events and pages that are not created to directly advertise a candidate’s platform.
Election policies during the campaign period are very similar across Canadian student unions. All university student unions’ election policies prohibit campaigning before and after the official campaign period. Like the USC, they all also have rules on capping election spending limits, obtaining permission to distribute campaign materials in residence buildings and the use of social media.
Like the USC election, candidates in other student union elections can be disqualified after receiving a certain number of demerit points.
The UTMSU’s election code states what to do in the case of a winning candidate who gets disqualified: the runner-up must have received more than one-third of the votes in order to be declared winner. Otherwise, the position remains vacant.
In MSU’s election code, campaign materials that are deemed to be in “bad taste” by the returning officers can result in demerit points. Last year, this rule caused some confusion as it led to the disqualification of one of the presidential candidates. Sarah Jama was disqualified after one of her campaign volunteers posted a retweet on Jama’s official Twitter account that accused one of the other candidates of sexual assault.
In last year's University of Toronto Student Union’s executive elections, an entire slate of candidates was disqualified. Each candidate on the slate finished with 22 to 28 demerit points. After appeal decisions were carried out, the team had collected a combined total of 196 demerit points, which was well above UTSU’s 35-point disqualification threshold. The one member of the UofT slate who won the position of vice-president of internal and services had to give up her seat.
The slate was eliminated because they had non-English campaign materials online without the necessary English translation, used space for campaigning that was not available to other candidates and had enlisted the help of an UTSU vice-president in their campaign.