Elections team breaks norm of consultation before campaign period, drawing concerns from candidates, student groups

The AMS Elections Committee is facing criticism for its decision to bar candidates from talking to student groups before campaign period starts — a break from a longstanding election norm.

The committee’s decision appears to contradict Section IX, Subsection A, Article 2, Paragraph 6 of AMS Code which allows “private communication concerning election plans” before campaign period.

Past candidates used this to consult with students while building their platforms. But without this provision, candidates and student groups alike are concerned that odds are tilted in favour of incumbents who may have an understanding of what student groups want — which newcomers may lack.

Candidates face pressure to release their platforms early during campaign period to get an edge over their competitors. Under this new rule, they’ll have to delay releasing their platforms until they can consult with students during this period.

Michelle Marcus, a member of the lobbying team of Climate Justice UBC, said the move discourages candidates from consulting the constituencies they’re running to represent.

When Climate Justice emailed candidates for meetings ahead of campaign period, as it had in past years, Marcus said some candidates replied with concerns it would constitute an infraction.

“I really worry about the stress that this type of rule puts on all the candidates, but especially new candidates,” said Marcus, who graduated from UBC in June 2021. “Because, with a rule like this, you have to be worried about every single conversation that you’re having.”

That worry arose in part because the Elections Committee made no announcement to all the candidates about the change.

Neither Ben Du, the lone AMS VP administration candidate, nor Georgia Yee, vying for reelection to the Board of Governors and Senate, remembered the committee putting out official communication about it. Yee said she heard about it “through the grapevine” and Du found out after emailing the committee for clarification.

“AMS Elections is already scary without all these hidden rules or hidden agreements that are not explicitly stated in the handbook,” said Yee.

Du said the move delayed his plans to ask student groups for input before releasing his platform. Although he said the decision ensured no grey area for candidates to break rules, he said he would have appreciated clearer communication of the decision to all candidates.

Shania Muthu, AMS chief electoral officer and head of the Elections Committee, declined to comment, citing a busy schedule.

The committee has been fraught with turmoil this year, with AMS Council terminating the former chief electoral officer in November upon her request. According to Marcus, this could have hurt the transition process for the new committee.

Now that campaign period is well underway, Yee, Du and Marcus agreed there’s little the committee could do for redress. Marcus said AMS Council could ask the committee to explain its decision now and eliminate ambiguity in the relevant section of code for future elections.

“I know for a fact that candidates talked to students about their platforms, and I think that’s how it should be,” she said of past races. “I don’t see why anyone would want students to elect candidates who haven’t consulted with other students on their platform.”

Voting opens March 7.

Follow us at @UbysseyNews on Twitter and follow our election coverage starting February 28. This article is part of our 2022 AMS elections coverage.