RJ Kelford narrowly missed disqualification from the SSMU Presidential race this week, after Elections McGill ruled that his web site, notanotherstudentpolitican.com, violated electoral regulations.
Under Elections McGill regulations, each presidential candidate cannot spend more than $150 on campaign materials, which the electoral body says Kelford did – a violation that could have resulted in the end of his run for president.
Elections McGill’s Chief Returning Officer (CRO) Corey Shefman started his investigation last Thursday after receiving a formal complaint from a source Shefman refused to disclose. He consulted four different web designers to determine his valuation of the web site, which was created by Johnson Fung, a current candidate for SSMU VP Clubs & Services.
“They all agreed it couldn’t have been done in under an hour and it couldn’t have been worth less than $100,” he said.
Since Kelford had already spent $70 on paper campaign materials, pushing his spending over the limit, Shefman ruled that the web site had to be taken down and that Kelford’s campaign was prohibited from spending more money.
Kelford’s campaign manager, Andrea Merlano, re-created the web site using a free version of Adobe Dreamweaver, a web design program. Shefman initially agreed to allow the new web site – but just a few hours later Kay Turner, current SSMU VP Internal and opposing SSMU Presidential candidate, lodged a formal appeal with Elections McGill.
Elections McGill then quickly reversed its decision to allow the new web site in a second ruling, barring Kelford from any web campaigning outside of Facebook.
“It is quite clear that the expected sanction to be applied when a candidate violates campaign funding rules…is disqualification,” stated the Elections McGill ruling that Turner posted in a “note” on her Facebook profile accessed by The Daily. The ruling was not posted on Election McGill’s web site or sent to students through the SSMU listserv, as it was private, according to the CRO.
“The nature of a decision like this is not a public one,” said Shefman in an email to The Daily. “It was issued to the person who lodged the appeal (Kay) and to the candidate (RJ). They were free to do with it as they see fit.”
The ruling obtained by The Daily will be available at mcgilldaily.com.
Even though Elections McGill stated that campaign funding violations usually result in disqualification, Kelford did not suffer such a fate.
“Elections McGill agreed unanimously that it would not be in the best interests of the democratic process for RJ to be disqualified,” the ruling continued.
Kelford disagreed with the ruling, saying it was ill-informed.
“Most of the people discussing this have little to no experience with web design at all,” he said.
Furthermore, he claimed that Shefman had not shown the actual code to any of the web designers he consulted, only relying on the appearance of the web site.
“Anyone can make a site that looks like that,” he argued.
Kelford said he believed the removal of his web site would not affect the results of the campaign.
“I think I can win regardless,” he said.
Turner was ill this week and not available for comment.
Text of the ruling of the CRO
On the afternoon of 7 March 2008, Kay Turner, candidate for SSMU
President, lodged an official appeal with Elections McGill of our
previously issued sanction against RJ Kelford, also a candidate for
SSMU President who had been found to have violated Article 17.1 of
SSMU By-Law 1-1 which limits candidates to $150. This was based on the
testimony of four student web designers, all of whom agreed
unequivocally that RJ’s website (www.notanotherstudentpolitician.com)
could not have been made for the $80 which would have been the maximum
cost he could have incurred based on the already spent $70 on paper
campaign materials. The web designers consulted differed in their
assessment of the site, but estimated that the site would cost between
$100 – $800. As web design is a value-added industry, Elections McGill
acknowledged that it would be difficult to assign a specific value,
though we agreed that the value was in excess of that which would have
been permitted. For the sake of clarity, we assigned to it a value of
Article 18.3 of the Constitution reads; “18.3 In the case of an
election, any violation of the campaign funding rules may result in
the invalidation of the successful candidate” (while 18.3 explicitly
refers to a scenario occurring after an election, that is not because
the infraction cannot be enforced during the election, it is because
expenses are not normally analyzed till afterwards). It is quite clear
that the expected sanction to be applied when a candidate violates
campaign funding rules (as in this case) is disqualification. However,
due to the fact that this infraction was caught before voting began,
Elections McGill decided to apply Article 18.4.1 of By-Law 1-1 which
allows the Chief Electoral Officer (and by extension, Elections
McGill) to “provide for other sanctions”. Elections McGill agreed
unanimously that it would not be in the best interests of the
democratic process for RJ to be disqualified. We proceeded to issue a
sanction which required the website in question be taken down and his
spending be capped.
Shortly thereafter, the opposing candidate, Kay Turner, appealed
Elections McGill decision on the grounds that the new (and freely
created) website was, by the standard of an average student (the
standard test used by Elections McGill in all decisions) was for all
intents and purposes, the same as the one that had been taken down –
regardless of the fact that it was written in a different programming
language. If this were taken to be true, it would mean that there had
been essentially no sanction (in real terms) for what is generally
accepted to be one of the most serious infractions which can be
Upon further examination of the facts, including the claim made by the
appellant that the infraction had caused irreparable damage to her
campaign, Elections McGill agreed that in this case, the original
sanction had not been properly applied. In agreement with Student
Advocacy, it was decided, again, that it was not in the best interests
of the democratic process for RJ to be disqualified from the election.
However, he had previously indicated in conversations with the CEO
that it in his opinion, his campaign required the use of the website.
Thus, Elections McGill offered him a choice.
The first option was for RJ to continue to run in the election, but
for his use of the internet for the purposes of campaigning to be
limited to Facebook (a medium which, by all interpretations, is
inherently freely available and was not involved with the campaign
website). His spending would still be capped and his website would
come down completely – not to be replaced. He would still be able to
make use of his campaign videos and whatever paper material had
already been produced. Choice number two was based on a strict reading
of the by-laws, it was simply that RJ be disqualified for exceeding
the allowed spending limit.
During a conversation in the Leacock basement at approximately 5:00pm
on 7 March 2008, RJ agreed to the first sanction. The sanction was
thus applied and his website was ordered removed. It was also decided,
and agreed upon by both parties, that RJ may, if he wishes, retain use
of the url www.notanotherstudentpolitician.com to be used only as a
redirect to a “mailto:” function – sending any visitors directly to
their chosen email client to send an email to the candidate.
Given that both Kay and RJ have agreed verbally that the indicated
solution is acceptable and will not necessitate an appeal to the
Judicial Board, it is the opinion of Elections McGill that with the
sanctions having been applied, this matter can now be brought to a
close. Both parties deserve to be commended for their restraint in
what was, without a doubt, a physically and emotionally trying three
days for all involved.