The most hotly contested SSMU elections in recent memory might also be the most bizarre. With polls scheduled to close today, candidates are juggling campaign violations, accusations of prejudiced Facebook profile photos, and, in one case, physical violence.
Presidential candidates Stefan Link and Sarah Woolf have been slapped with censures from Elections McGill for a variety of violations. Woolf was censured after Elections McGill chief electoral officer Mike Vallo was informed that Woolf’s campaign site and YouTube videos were online at 11 a.m. Tuesday – two hours after the deadline for the removal of campaign materials. Link was also censured for leaving his Facebook group and YouTube videos online after the 9 a.m. deadline.
Vallo sees Link’s recent violation as proof that the presidential candidate did not actually know the election regulations. “I still don’t think…he’s intentionally breaking the bylaws as much as he can. He just doesn’t know the bylaws,” Vallo said.
Link deleted himself as administrator of his Facebook page, rather than taking the page down. Facebook groups without administrators can remain online indefinitely.
VP (Clubs and Services) candidate Anushay Khan has had similar problems. Khan said she logged onto Facebook recently and was surprised to find that she had somehow been deleted as administrator of her own group. She has since removed all content from the group, though it remains online.
In addition to his online violations, a memo from Elections McGill also attributed Link’s censure to his “persistent disregard for the bylaws.” Last week, members of Link’s campaign violated bylaws by writing his name in chalk and handing out campaign flyers outside the McLennan Library.
SSMU electoral bylaws forbid flyering outdoors, as well as the display of campaign materials outdoors.
In response, Link pointed to discrepancies between the online version of Elections McGill’s bylaws and the hard copies given to candidates. Vallo acknowledged that the online version of the bylaws are outdated and limit candidates to 400 posters, while the updated hard copies given to candidates limit them to 200.
Vallo added that Link is not alone in his lack of familiarity with the bylaws. “The overwhelming majority [of candidates] did not read the bylaws at all…and then were surprised when they got in trouble,” he said.
Vallo said that Woolf has adhered to election bylaws throughout the campaign period, with the exception of her recent violations. “She’s run a really clean campaign so far,” Vallo said.
Link has said that he is convinced the bylaws limit voter turnout and awareness of the election among students.
Keeping things under wraps
Campaign violations are not the only thing troubling candidates in the final stretches of the election.
Presidential candidate Zach Newburgh has had to explain a Facebook profile photo that shows him wearing a scarf wrapped around his head and holding a knife. One commenter expressed concern that Newburgh appeared to be “mocking Arabs and/or Muslims.”
Newburgh said that he is wearing “Moroccan dress” in the photo, which he has removed from his profile.
Woolf said the image could undermine Newburgh’s promises to promote dialogue between polarized communities. “I think that it certainly shows a serious lack of good judgment,” Woolf said. “But it is especially disappointing coming from a candidate who has based his campaign on building bridges,” she added.
The photo has been sent to The Daily by both students and a McGill alumna.
Newburgh referred to the photo as “a joke that was taken way too far.” He also emphasized his track record as president of Hillel Montreal, where he says he has stood for diplomacy among disparate groups.
“I have always stood for dialogue and always stood for bridge-building,” Newburgh said, pointing to his work with Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights. “I am absolutely, without question, sorry if I offended anyone in any way as a result of a joke that really went too far.”
Link had not seen the photo. Presidential candidate Trip Yang had seen the photo but declined to comment.
The gloves come off
An unidentified person punched Link in the stomach while he was campaigning in Gerts this past Friday.
He believes it was a response to the strength of his campaign. “We were gaining a lot of support in the bar that night,” he explained, adding that he is convinced he will win the election.
Link dismissed the possibility that the attack was a random act of violence. “There is no way [the attacker] was just drunk and violent. That’s not a possibility,” he said.
Initially, Link denied that other candidates were involved in the attack. When questioned further, he speculated that Woolf may have enlisted someone to attack him. “The person who did it was Asian, so it kind of makes it look like she would be the least likely person,” he said, adding, “If you want to cover something up, that’s a good way to do it.”
According to Link, people would likely attribute the attack to Yang’s campaign team, because Yang has “a lot of Oriental [sic] support.”
Yang called the speculation “ridiculous.”
The next night, Link was spotted at Verdun venue Clap Trap, where he says he was invited on stage by performers. Vallo explained that campaigning off campus would constitute a serious bylaw infraction. However, he has been unable to corroborate the story. “Most of [the people present] said they were too drunk to tell me what happened,” Vallo said.
Link said he cannot clearly remember the evening’s events. “I was actually drinking alcohol and I can’t tell you exactly what it is that I said,” he explained.
Election results will be announced this evening in Gerts.