Smear campaign in DSU elections?
After what he is now calling a “smear campaign” in the Dalhousie Student Union (DSU) elections, disqualified presidential candidate and winner Jamie Arron will be appealing the $120 in fines against him that led to his disqualification by the DSU elections committee.
Aaron Beale, the VP (academic and external) candidate and winner, was also disqualified and will be appealing all fines laid against him.
Jamie Arron is confident all fines will be repealed.
“The difficult part is the next two months being a current executive and working in this environment,” says Arron.
“I don’t know if you’ve looked much at Punditry.ca, but some people are trying to put a smear campaign against me.”
Arron says he does not hold anything against the elections committee or the chief returning officer because he understands that “they are under a lot of pressure and that pressure was increased by the smear campaign.”
According to the rules of the DSU constitution, any candidate who exceeds $100 in fines is automatically disqualified. No notification of the disqualifications was given to candidates prior to the results being made public.
The DSU elections committee is mandated to not reveal disqualifications until the voting period is over. This ensures that the original results of the votes can be upheld should the disqualifications be overturned in an appeal.
The results of the DSU elections showed that Arron won the presidency with 58.3 per cent of the votes, while Beale won for VP (academic and external) with 61.2 per cent of the votes. Because of the disqualifications, Sarah Bouchard was declared DSU president and Richard Clark was declared VP (academic and external) for next year.
The fines laid against both candidates were for breaking the rules of campaigning as outlined in the DSU constitution.
By the time the elections results were issued, Arron had six fines worth $20 each. Offenses included: having a website active in the pre-campaigning period, using DSU-owned material in his one-minute campaign video, post-campaigning and soliciting in a campus residence.
Chris Saulnier, current president of the DSU, is skeptical of a smear campaign within the student union.
“I wouldn’t say there is a toxic atmosphere in the DSU,” he says. “People are just passionate about these positions and want a chance to have a large impact.”
Arron says he is unable to comment on whether the alleged smear campaign came from within the DSU or not.
In regards to the charges of pre-campaigning, Arron says his campaign website, which was active before the campaign period began, was not promoted in any way and “could not have influenced voters.”
To answer the charges for using the DSU video footage, Arron says the footage actually belonged to an independent director from whom he received permission to use the footage.
In terms of his soliciting in residences, Arron says there is no place in the DSU’s constitution where it indicates that such practices are against the rules. The DSU official statement regarding the disqualifications only says that soliciting for any purpose in residences is against university policy.
Finally, Arron says he can repeal the charges for post-campaigning as they are largely subjective. Arron had posted on his Facebook page that “The DSU is at a crossroads. Will you vote for the same ol’ insiders or for the new wave of engagement? Times are a’changing. Let’s make it happen.” He says the wording of this post does not necessarily indicate campaigning.
“(The elections committee) made the decision quite quickly; they didn’t necessarily have access to all the information,” says Arron.
Beale also hopes his appeals will be heard. He amassed $205 in fines largely for post-campaigning. The elections committee found 29 of the candidate’s handbills issued around Howe Hall in the post-campaign period.
However, Beale says the person who issued the handbills was not a registered member of his campaign and he had no knowledge of their distribution.
He says it is unreasonable to disqualify him for something that was beyond his control.
“People can photocopy handbills and put them up; it’s just impossible to control completely,” he says in an email. “Right now, I could photocopy somebody’s posters, put them somewhere and report them.”
However, Beale does not suspect a smear campaign. He says the person who put up his posters was simply ignorant of the campaign rules.
“I will still have confidence in the election process if my appeal is accepted,” says Beale.
“I worry that if I am disqualified people will lose faith in the DSU’s legitimacy. The institution is at risk of becoming obsolete.”
Now that both candidates have submitted their appeals, the elections committee will set up a meeting to discuss them. If the committee decides to uphold its previous ruling, the disqualified candidates will be given five days to make an appeal to the DSU’s judicial board.