The 2015 General Election of the University of Manitoba Students’ Union will be the first to feature new rules related to election penalties after UMSU Council voted to approve changes to their policy manual at their Feb. 23 meeting.
The new rules change how candidates are penalized for breaking election rules. Candidates are now penalized by a reduction in the reimbursements they receive after the end of the election period, meaning some expenses incurred during the election may become out-of-pocket expenses. Before the changes, penalties resulted in a reduction in candidates’ campaign budget, reducing the candidate’s overall spending cap.
However, overspending in the campaign is a disqualifiable offence. In previous years candidates facing a reduction in their campaign budget could face disqualification if they didn’t leave a portion of their budget unspent.
The motion was first presented to council on Feb. 9 by the campaigns and government relations committee where it was discussed, and was voted on at the council’s next meeting.
University of Manitoba Students’ Union president Al Turnbull, who motivated the motion, said the rules were outdated and that they discouraged candidates from spending their full budgets out of fear of accidental disqualification – effectively reducing their ability to conduct outreach to students.
“There’s never been an election since we’ve had this system where someone has used the full [budget]. And if they have they’re not claiming it – because everyone gets penalties. I had 20, 30 per cent [of our budget cut] two years ago. Now I can have 30 demerits [instead],” said Turnbull.
Turnbull said that even in a well-intentioned campaign penalties could be expected and that those minor violations shouldn’t lead to a candidate’s disqualification.
“My volunteer goes too close to the polling station, that’s a mistake. You can’t control 120 volunteers [ . . . ] Everyone gets penalties.”
Two draft reference tables, provided with the resolution, offer a list of campaign rule violations with corresponding penalties, and the number of demerits and corresponding reduction of reimbursement to candidates.
Penalties, according to the draft document, include 10 demerits for posting unapproved campaign materials, 20 demerits for having non-UMSU members volunteering, and 10 demerits for campaigning in prohibited spaces.
Reduction of reimbursement first kicks in at $20 for candidates with 11-15 demerits and progresses up to $125 for 46-49 demerits. Upon reaching 50 demerits candidates are to be disqualified from the campaign.
The election rules have had a major impact in the past. In the 2012 General Election, presidential candidate Aaron Griffiths was disqualified from the race after he was assigned a fine for damaging UMSU property.
Griffiths’ campaign team used a painting that belonged to the University of Manitoba Recycling and Environmental Group for use as a canvas for one of his campaign banners. When CRO Mike Safiniuk filed a complaint stating that Griffiths’ repurposing of the painting did $300-500 in damage, Griffiths’ campaign team said they found the painting in the University of Manitoba Recycling and Environmental Group offices and believed it was available for use.
In his appeal Griffiths wrote, “Even if the Aaron Griffiths campaign was wrong to recycle the painting, this expense is no different from a parking ticket, which nobody would force a candidate to include in campaign expenses.”