Two candidates disqualified from UMSU election

A situation without precedent

The UMSU executive candidates, Peter Akiode and Justin Langan, were disqualified from elections last week. Langan received two disqualifications, though the first was overturned through an informal appeal.

While the rulings are available on the union’s website as of publication, only the second disqualification that Langan received was announced to the public out of the three. Akiode’s disqualification on March 5 and Langan’s first disqualification on Feb. 17 were never announced. Langan’s second, ruled on March 8, was not announced until a March 10 email containing the information was sent to all UMSU members 45 minutes before polls closed.

Langan’s name appeared on the ballot, while Akiode’s did not. Akiode, a candidate for vice-president finance and operations, was disqualified following a complaint that he was using resources while campaigning that were not available to all members of UMSU.

Specifically, Akiode was seen tabling in University Centre as an employee with the company Neo Financial, which the complainant argued provided the candidate with additional opportunities to spread awareness of their name and likeness.

Others also reported seeing Neo Financial representatives promoting Akiode’s campaign while discussing their services with students. Chief Returning Officer (CRO) Erin Robert determined these actions to be against the rules of the election.

A second complaint that contributed to Akiode’s disqualification alleged that he had used bots to express support for his campaign on Instagram. The complaint provided 53 examples of comments posted in rapid succession on the Manitoban’s Instagram post introducing the candidates, all featuring similar messages encouraging students to vote for Akiode — including at least five from a single account.

Akiode did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Presidential candidate Justin Langan faced disqualification last month for allegedly breaking rules regarding pre-campaigning.

The complaint claimed that one of Langan’s official volunteers made posts on social media promoting his campaign before the official campaign period began. This was not the only complaint made against Langan, but it was the first that resulted in disqualification.

Robert’s ruling determined that Langan’s campaign had “compromised the integrity of the entire election should [she] let [him] continue.” Despite this, Langan’s initial disqualification was overturned after an informal appeal and he was permitted to continue in the presidential race while receiving 30 demerits.

Langan was later disqualified a second time after Robert ruled that he plagiarized from Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders’s website.

This violation brought him to 65 demerits, more than the 50 required for disqualification. Langan maintains his innocence regarding all accusations in the complaints.

Robert’s decision to disqualify Langan claimed that he broke the rules outlined in the UMSU election manual. The ruling also alleged that he violated copyright law by plagiarizing a copyrighted website. The election manual campaigning standards outline the fact that campaigns must comply with all laws.

While Langan acknowledged that the “navigational portion” as well as text on his website containing the phrase “this is your movement” were similar to Sanders’s webpage, he does not believe he violated any copyright law.

After the email announcing his disqualification was sent to UMSU members, Langan took to Instagram to publish a video outlining his experience during the election.

“What I did was simply put out the facts and the unfairness of not only how I was treated but how the student body was,” he said regarding the video.

Despite his disqualification, Langan said that he will continue to advocate for students.

“I will definitely not stop my involvement with bettering the environment for students, but I’m just going to have to do it from outside of UMSU,” he said.

The frustration for Langan was, “how can I hold the CRO and the judicial board accountable as a candidate?”

Robert said that the main policy holding her position accountable is that all CRO decisions and rulings can be overturned by the UMSU judicial board within a 48-hour window. The email sent to UMSU members announcing Langan’s disqualification confirmed that the judicial board upheld Robert’s ruling on appeal.

According to the UMSU election manual, because Langan placed an appeal within the 48- hour period of his disqualification verdict, he was required to remain on the ballot until the judicial board had made its decision.

Robert said that, as far as she is aware, a situation like Langan’s has not occurred previously in any UMSU election.

Langan received 22.1 per cent of the popular vote in the election — 912 votes.

The UMSU election manual states that, should a situation occur where “the results of the election could not reasonably be deemed to indicate the actual preference of the voters,” the election or the part of the election affected by the situation in question can be declared void.

Any part of an UMSU election that is declared void must be voted upon again at a time decided upon by the UMSU judicial board.

To do this, the CRO is required to make a submission to the judicial board, which would initiate an appeal process including any electoral candidates involved.

Robert instead presented a motion to the UMSU board of directors to hold a runoff presidential election between candidates Tracy Karuhogo, Victoria Romero and Roleen Alarab. The reason for this, she said, was due to a number of recent resignations on the judicial board and the “time sensitive nature” of the situation.

On Monday night, the board of directors held an emergency meeting to debate Robert’s motion. The board ruled that there would not be a re-vote, and named Tracy Ayebare Karuhogo UMSU president for the 2023-24 academic year.

— with files from Colton McKillop

14/03/2023: The article originally read that the CRO filed a motion to void the presidential votes following Langan’s disqualification. It has since been corrected to say that the motion filed was to hold a runoff election between the remaining candidates.