Joke candidates are becoming increasingly popular among student union elections

Joshua Storie, The Gateway

We all remember back in March, when a “joke candidate” became the most talked about contender in the AMS elections. It appears that “The Cairn” has started a trend because over at the University of Alberta, Donut the Cat and Banana the Hamster are changing the face of student politics.

The Gateway

As reported by The Gateway, the popularity of these two jokes candidates in U of A’s recent Student Union elections has prompted the organization to propose a bill that would prevent joke candidates from winning the most first-place votes in any of their election races.

Donut the Cat won 21 per cent of the vote in the presidential race against two other candidates, while Vice-President (Academic) candidate Banana the Hamster won 33 per cent of the vote against one other candidate. Though neither of them won, the student union is nonetheless concerned over the fact that a significant amount of students literally voted for a hamster.

The Gateway

Per this proposed bill, any joke candidate that receives the most first-place votes will be dropped from the race, unless they already turned themselves into a serious candidate within 48 hours of the end of the nomination period. Once they’re dropped, the remaining votes will simply be recounted.

Joke candidates are actually already unable to win an election at U of A’s student union — according to their current rules, the seat remains vacant and a by-election is held later in the year if a joke candidate wins a race. Regardless, the arguments between these two ways of handling victorious joke candidates are quite interesting because they show different perspectives on what voting for a joke candidate can represent.

Former U of A SU Vice-President (Operations and Finance) Cory Bondarchuk — who ran in their 2014 Presidential race as Doge — argued that a by-election is actually necessary if a joke candidate wins because it shows the inadequacy of the other candidates, who were unable to win the confidence of other voters.

“If a joke candidate wins, there should be a by-election,” he said to The Gateway. “I don’t think any other candidate worked hard enough to win a victory and they wouldn’t have the confidence to serve.” He further argued that the bill simply protects student politicians from losing against joke candidates, who voters might have actual reasons for choosing.

In contrast, U of A SU Law Councillor Sandy Brophy said that he was concerned about first-time voters he chatted with who voted for Donut the Cat solely because, well, he’s “really cute.”

“I was a little scared that Donut could potentially win and we would have a vacant seat in the presidency,” he told The Gateway.

So if Donut the Cat actually won, would it mean that the other candidates were inadequate? Or would those votes be just irrelevant votes for cuteness?

UBC’s student union, the AMS, actually has no rules or regulations over joke candidates, although a joke candidate technically won their most recent presidential race. Alan Ehrenholtz initially ran as the engineering Cairn and stayed silent behind a miniature Cairn during the first debate, but he came out as a serious candidate at the last minute because he believed that none of the other candidates were suitable for the job (we agreed). “The Cairn” remained the name on the ballot, however, as he declared himself a serious candidate after voting had begun.

Likewise, Harsev Oshan ran as Rob Ford in the 2014 AUS Representatives election, but he ran into criticism when his joke candidacy — which promised free alcohol and the abolition of tuition — actually won him one of five available seats. Though Oshan did not expect to win, he accepted the position under his own name and defended his candidacy as proof that students are disconnected from student council elections.