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Students’ Union byelection candidate appeals disqualification

By Jason Herring, October 26 2017 —

A University of Calgary Cumming School of Medicine student is appealing his disqualification from this month’s Students’ Union byelection. Fourth-year health sciences student Jarin Thundathil received 70 per cent of the vote in the race for medicine representative, but was disqualified for exceeding campaign spending limits. The SU Review Board will process the appeal, which was announced at the Oct. 24 Students’ Legislative Council meeting.

Candidates were allowed to spend $150 on their campaign in the byelection. Before the polls closed, candidates had to submit their campaign expenses along with receipts for verification and reimbursement. Thundathil spent almost $225 on his campaign, 50 per cent over the spending limit and was disqualified as a result. He spent the money on posters, banners and handbills. Runner-up Jameson Dundas was announced the winner with 17 per cent of the vote.

SU elections policy cites disqualification as a consequence for a major violation. While campaign funding infringements are listed in the policy as a minor violation, the disqualification was made based on the clause specifying that “repeated and willful violation of election policies and procedures” is a major violation, as seen in Section 38 of the policy below. 

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“The Candidate’s disqualification came due to overspending with respect to the limit set for his position,” SU chief returning officers Hamnah Altaf and Dave Antoniak said in an email. “Based on the significant amount of overspending, we considered this a violation of [SU elections policy Section 38(b)(2)(iv)] and as a result disqualified his candidacy for the election.”

However, Thundathil is basing his appeal around the argument that election rules for spending were unclear.

“Based on everyone that I talked to and a lot of the feedback I was getting, the rules were vague on the matter,” he said. “They were vague enough that there was room for an appeal.”

On the day of the byelection results, Thundathil posted to his Facebook account that “the disqualification came on sound reasoning and accepts complete responsibility for the unfortunate end to an otherwise fantastic campaign.” He said he made the concession because he wasn’t aware of the options he had open to him and that he changed his mind when he learned about the appeals process.

“At the time, I didn’t actually realize that there was an appeals process. Besides that, I more or less had just written off the election at that point because I didn’t want to be obstructionist,” he said. “The title had already been awarded to someone else.”

According to SU policy, elected officials can’t be sworn into office while an appeal is ongoing.

Thundathil argued that he’d be doing a disservice to the students who voted for him by not appealing his disqualification. He points to his platform, which included formalizing exam review sessions for medical school students and providing bioinformatics majors with out-of-class resources in lieu of stream-specific classes, as the reason he secured a high proportion of the vote.

“The bottom line is that it was 70 per cent of the vote. It was a supermajority. It was an overwhelming victory, by the numbers, anyway,” Thundathil said. “I got more than four times as many votes as the runner-up. I think I would be doing a disservice by not pursuing every avenue possible.”

Thundathil also stressed that his decide to appeal his disqualification was not rooted in malice, but instead emerged from a “sense of responsibility to the people who voted for [him].”

“Our job is to uphold the principles of Union Elections, including keeping elections fair and equitable for all participants and ensuring that elections are administered independently and impartially. Elections Staff have and will continue to enforce rules equally to all candidates,” they said about their role over email.

The CROs will present their post-election report to Students’ Legislative Council on Oct. 31 at 6:30 p.m. in the MacHall Executive Council Chambers.

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