Controversy surrounds ASUS election with two disqualifications

Teams reinstated, accusations of conflicts of interest among candidates cause discrepancies

The Arts and Science Undergraduate Society office is located on University Avenue.
The Arts and Science Undergraduate Society office is located on University Avenue. 
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At approximately 6 p.m. on Jan. 22, two of three teams running for ASUS executive were notified of their disqualification for campaigning outside the designated period.

After unsuccessfully appealing their disqualification to ASUS Policy and Elections Review Committee (PERC), the teams brought their cases to the AMS Judicial Committee. The committee then reinstated both teams, replacing their disqualification with temporary campaign blackouts.

The disqualification

Only 18 hours after the campaigning period had begun, Teams Harmony & Gurjot and Sagal & Alissa were notified via email that they were disqualified from ASUS elections. The disqualification was based on ASUS Policy Manual 2, Section C-3.08, which reads: “Any instances of campaigning outside of the campaign period will result in immediate disqualification.”

According to current ASUS President Jasmine Lagundzija, one of the teams was caught with a volunteer Facebook group that encouraged students to vote for them prior to the campaign period beginning on Jan. 22 at midnight. Meanwhile, the other team had posted an Instagram on one of their personal accounts announcing their candidacy approximately one hour before the campaigning period began.

According to Team Sagal & Alissa, their volunteer Facebook group wasn’t made with the intent to campaign.

“We know the ASUS rules on campaigning before the campaign period has started,” the team said. “We were simply building our team of volunteers and supporters, as almost every ASUS and AMS executive team has done. We were following precedent … We didn’t actually even post any campaign material in the group until 12:03 p.m., which was a full 12 hours into the campaign period.”

The team said the ruling stemmed from anonymous complaints from people that were added to the group without consenting. However, Team Sagal & Alissa claim they didn’t add any non-consenting volunteers.

“We know that creating a team’s volunteer group before the start of campaigning is not only common practice, but it’s also essential for communicating any logistical information [with our volunteers] before the campaign period begins,” the team said.

Team Harmony & Gurjot told The Journal the private account photo linked to their disqualification had “an innocuous caption that had nothing to do with [their] campaign.” The team took issue with the ruling and connected it to the “archaic practices” that restrict student participation in ASUS.

Appeal to ASUS Policy and Elections Review Committee

After the ASUS elections team determined that both teams had violated policy, they provided instructions to each team on how to appeal to the ASUS Policy and Elections Review Committee (PERC). Although both teams went through the appeal process, they were told later that night that the committee ruled to uphold each ruling.

“Once we filed the appeal to PERC, we believe the ASUS CEO [Chief Electoral Officer] and PERC failed to allow us due process,” Team Sagal & Alissa told The Journal. “We were unable to represent ourselves, we were unable to submit any evidence, or to tell our side of the story.”

In addition to claiming PERC’s failure to relinquish decision-making responsibilities to the AMS Secretariat violated the ASUS constitution, Sagal & Alissa criticized the committee’s handling of their case. They made multiple requests to know where the location of PERC’s meeting was so they could send representation, all of which went unanswered before they were told PERC’s verdict around midnight.

Lamenting a similar delayed experience with PERC, Harmony & Gurjot questioned the legitimacy of the committee’s decision, noting they weren’t given a formal sit-down discussion, nor did PERC ask for any materials or explanations from the team. “They made their own decision … without getting our input,” Harmony & Gurjot said.

Conflicts of interest

In an interview with The Journal, Team Sagal & Alissa claimed ASUS Chief Returning Officer (CRO) Regina Codera made the decision to disqualify the two teams. At the beginning of the election period, Codera declared a conflict of interest given her relationship with one of the candidates on the third team running – Team Eric & Dave.

Team Harmony & Gurjot said the existing conflict of interest “severely impacted the success and legitimacy of all campaigns involved, aside from one,” a sentiment which Sagal & Alissa echoed to The Journal.

“Regina had made a decision to disqualify two of the three teams within 18 hours into the campaign period, thus effectively handing over the successful election to her boyfriend and his running mate,” Team Sagal & Alissa said.

However, on the ASUS elections webpage, it says that “any concerns related to elections violations should be directed to the ASUS Chief Electoral Officer Luca Bonifacio-Proietto” and “any related inquiries sent to the CRO will be ignored.”

In an email to The Journal, Codera wrote “the decision to disqualify two teams running for ASUS Executive was one made by the Chief Electoral Officer.”

Codera said the CEO’s decision to disqualify wasn’t easy, especially because “many people both in and outside the society have conflicts of interest with more than one of the teams running.”

Lagundzija confirmed there were “a couple of conflicts of interest” among candidates this year.

“For the sake of transparency, it’s important to note as well that one of our teams was an internal team and had a candidate that is a commissioner within our office,” Lagundzija said. According to the ASUS website, Sagal Sharma currently works as the ASUS Services Commissioner.

When asked about the CRO’s relationship with one of the candidates, Lagundzija said, “the statement that they are dating is true,” but noted she couldn’t comment on “the specifics of whether that played into the decision or not.”

Judicial Committee reinstates both teams

Following the PERC ruling, the two teams were told they could further appeal to the AMS Judicial Committee, who maintains the final authority on elections complaints.

The teams proceeded with their appeals to the AMS Judicial Committee, which were heard on Tuesday afternoon. The committee reinstated both teams, upon the condition of “campaign blackouts.” This means both teams had to cease any campaigning procedures until the end of their blackout.

Team Harmony & Gurjot’s blackout ended Jan. 25 at midnight, while Team Sagal & Alissa’s blackout will end on Jan. 26 at midnight. Campaigning materials that were already posted prior to the decision — including posts on social media — were permitted to remain, but no new posts could be issued during the blackout.

ASUS elections policy under review

As a result of the two rulings, the AMS elections team will now handle the ASUS executive election. This means ASUS will now follow AMS elections rules, handing over control of reviewing complaints and issuing sanctions to the AMS as well.

“We as an executive recognize that it puts two teams in a very uncomfortable position, having been disqualified and blacked out and allowed to come back in,” Lagundzija explained. “This is the most fair and due process that we can give the candidates so there’s no perceived biases or leniencies.”

“Seeing as the AMS elections team … was not implicated in the decisions made by the ASUS elections team, we thought it was fair to transfer power,” AMS Secretary Neil Sengupta said.

Moreover, Lagundzija added that ASUS and the AMS will now be reviewing ASUS elections policies to reevaluate the effectiveness of its rules.

In interviews with The Journal, each of the sanctioned teams expressed their displeasure with the policy they were accused of violating. According to Team Sagal & Alissa, “We did not have the motive or intent to campaign by creating our volunteer group, and ASUS policy stipulates that you need to have intent to campaign.”

Team Harmony & Gurjot categorized the “vague” policy as one that must be clarified “so the people in charge aren’t able to bend the rules or over-exaggerate certain aspects of another candidate’s platform to get them disqualified.”

The ASUS executive debate has been postponed and will now take place this Friday at 6 p.m. in the lower ceilidh of the JDUC.

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