Candidates file appeals after 12-hour suspension for 'slate-like behaviour' due to website similarities

Update on March 2 at 10:42 a.m.: The Elections Appeals Committee has overturned both of these decisions, meaning neither Shoaib or Co will be suspended from campaigning.

"The Committee found that there were similarities in layout in the websites of the Appellant and Mr. Shoaib, but that the similarities in layout did not in itself constitute a slate-like activity," one decision read. The two decisions were nearly identical.

The Elections Appeals Committee also found that since there was no warning or chance to respond given to the candidates, "the CEO and the EC acted in an unfair manner, and ... in a manner inconsistent with the Electoral Procedures in Code."

However, the Committee will not require the CEO to give a public apology because while the decision was "erroneous, it was not done in bad faith."

"The Committee feels that it would be inappropriate to unduly censure the Elections Committee for making good faith attempts to enforce AMS Code," the decisions read.

A statement from the CEO Shania Muthu stated that the committee respects and understands the decisions.

"...We continue to remind individuals that any sort of harassment, or cyberbullying will not be tolerated, and will have repercussions if demonstrated," Muthu wrote.

The Elections Committee has suspended Saad Shoaib’s presidential campaign and Erin Co’s VP external campaign for a day due to “slate-like behaviour.”

Shania Muthu, the AMS’s chief electoral officer, said this was brought to the Elections Committee’s attention by someone who wanted to remain anonymous. The suspension of the campaign initially prevented both candidates from appearing in the Great Debate Thursday evening.

However, a 2:24 p.m. update from the Elections Committee said that candidates would now be able to attend the Great Debate, and that candidates could choose to be suspended on Wednesday, March 2 from 4:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., or Thursday, March 3 from 4:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Section IX, Article 2, Paragraph 5 of AMS Code states that “all candidates for each position in the Society's Executive elections shall have the right to participate in all forums to which candidates for that position are invited.”

On the "slate-like behaviour," Muthu said, “After identifying a lot that was similar — and it’s not just like a website template — the way the font is used, the way they decided to lay out their socials and where the acknowledgement was going to be placed, the endorsements, it’s pretty evident that it’s not coincidental.”

Muthu said the Committee made this decision based on Section IX, Article 2, paragraph 11 and 12. Paragraph 11 prohibits “real or apparent” slates, and Paragraph 12 identifies that candidates cannot produce “campaign materials that resemble those of another candidate in colour, branding, design, or appearance.”

Shoaib, who is currently the AMS VP external, and Co have both filed appeals to the Election Appeals Committee, asking for a public apology and a reversal of this decision.

“I think that this ruling is absolutely unacceptable,” Shoaib said.

Both Co and Shoaib stressed that candidate websites often look the same. Both campaigns used Wix, but they used different templates and mostly different fonts within the website-building platform.

The Committee's screenshot comparing Co's platform and Shoaib's list on why people should vote.
The Committee's screenshot comparing Co's platform and Shoaib's list on why people should vote. Screenshot courtesy Shania Muthu

Shoaib and Co also both pointed to an error in a screenshot sent to them — the Committee said that their platforms were laid out the same, but it compared Co’s platform with a section on Shoaib’s website detailing why people should vote in general.

Both candidates said they were not alerted or consulted at all on this.

“I was not consulted or given the chance to defend myself on these allegations. I was delivered a ruling right when I woke up,” Shoaib said.

Co said she felt like this “came out of nowhere” and said she thought this was a “stretch.”

“I wish I was just given the opportunity to at least provide evidence against this claim,” Co said.

Shoaib and Co both vehemently denied being part of a slate. Co is currently an associate vice-president in Shoaib’s VP External office, but both candidates denied working together at all.

“I think it's really important that the Elections Committee does thorough research and does a thorough investigation before reaching a conclusion on something like this. It is quite concerning to see that the Committee is making a ruling without consulting or giving candidates the chance to defend themselves,” Shoaib said.

Shoaib and Co also said that this would cause reputational damage to them.

“I was honestly so shocked and very outraged because I just want to focus on the campaign itself. That’s what’s important to me,” Co said.

When asked about the potential motivations behind the anonymous complaint, Muthu said this is the first the Elections Committee has heard of this person. Shoaib and Co both said they did not know that an anonymous tip was part of this.

“This person’s also not involved in any sort of election whatsoever and none of the campaigns whatsoever,” Muthu said. “This was not fully based on the fact that someone brought this up to us. It was convenient that this was being brought up to us because we are conducting our own review of the candidates’ campaigns.”

“I don’t think this was accidental and I definitely don’t think this was a coincidence in layout.”

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