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The Breakdown: UTSU elections rules and demerits

What you need to know about the campaign period
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The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) spring elections are underway, with in-person campaigning taking place from March 19 at 9:00 am to March 25 at 6:00 pm, and online campaigning permitted until voting closes on March 28 at 6:00 pm.

The union’s Elections and Procedures Code (EPC) contains rules and regulations regarding campaign materials and practices, and how demerit points are assigned based on the severity of an offence.

Basic rules of engagement

Pre-campaigning is against the rules of UTSU elections, per Article VI of the EPC. Pre-campaigning includes posting or distributing campaign materials, online campaigning, social media statements, classroom campaign speeches, and campaigning at social events before the campaign period. A violation of this rule is worth a maximum of 20 demerit points.

Any candidate who is a current UTSU volunteer, staff, committee, or Board of Directors member must remove themselves from all involvement with the election prior to the start of the nomination period. For example, if an individual sits on the Elections and Referenda Committee (ERC), they cannot run in elections unless they remove themselves from that position.

Candidates are also liable for the actions and rule violations of any “Non-Arm’s Length Party,” defined as an individual or group that has publicly campaigned with a candidate, used a candidate’s approved campaign materials with the candidate’s consent, or acted in violation of the EPC and had their actions publicly defended by a candidate.

All campaign methods, including advertisements and physical materials, must be approved by the Chief Returning Officer (CRO) in advance. The CRO must approve campaign materials within 24 hours of having received them from a candidate.

Demerit points

Demerit points are the penalties associated with any campaign material, campaign conduct, or rules of fair play violation. The amount of demerit points a candidate should receive is determined by the CRO and the ERC.

Executive candidates — those running for the positions of President, Vice-President Internal, VP University Affairs, VP External, VP Equity, VP Campus Life, and VP Professional Faculties — are limited to 35 demerit points before they are disqualified from the race. College and faculty director candidates are limited to 20 demerit points.

Once a candidate has breached a rule, the CRO and ERC consider whether or not the candidate attempted to correct the violation in a reasonable time period, continued the violation after being informed that they were doing so by the CRO, is personally responsible for the violation, broke the rules of fair play in a way that relates to the Grounds of Discrimination defined in the Ontario Human Rights Code, or gained a significant unwarranted advantage because of the violation.

Campaign material violations range in severity from misrepresentation of facts, worth a maximum of three demerits, to unapproved material and pre-campaign materials, worth a maximum of 15 demerit points each. Intentional misrepresentation of facts, however, is worth a maximum of 10 demerit points.

Campaigning violations include in-person campaigning during the voting period, worth 25 demerit points, and “personally campaigning to a student while they are voting online,” worth 15 demerit points. Pre-campaigning is worth 20 demerits. Breaking a university, municipal, provincial, or federal law while campaigning is worth 35 demerits, and therefore automatic disqualification of the candidate.

UTSU elections also adhere to the rules of fair play, which prohibit campaign-related materials, actions, or communications that are “sexually explicit or pornographic,” or exploit or exhibit minors in such a way. Additionally, campaign materials or actions cannot create a “genuine risk of physical injury or property damage,” threaten people or public safety, or organize or encourage harm. Campaigns cannot promote self-harm, eating disorders, or hard drug abuse, nor can they attack, bully, or harass “nonpublic people.”

Appealing a CRO ruling           

Candidates can appeal all CRO rulings to the ERC in writing within 48 hours of the candidate being informed of the ruling. At the ERC meeting at which a candidate’s appeal is considered, the CRO explains the reasons for making their decision. The candidate or candidates may issue an oral or written statement presenting their case. Voting ERC members then deliberate and decide on whether to uphold, overturn, or amend the CRO’s original ruling. Deliberation cannot be done in camera.

Candidates may further appeal rulings of the CRO and ERC to the UTSU’s appellate board within 24 hours of the decision. The Appellate Board, however, has no obligation to hear the appeal.