dispatches from the byzantine empire

In the article on word ‘Byzantinism’, Wikipedia tells us that:

The term has primarily negative associations, implying complexity and autocracy.

Now, if any structure should be complex and autocratic, it should be an electoral regulation system. There really is no greater force than that of a candidate when trying to get elected – their will is like water on pavement: it will find every crack and seep in. However, these regulations should never be to the detriment of a well publicized, well run election. As much as I loved the Elections BC ads during the last election (especially the one I saw in Alberta five days after the vote – way to spend taxpayer dollars on that one, Elections BC), they were not, in my opinion, the driving force getting people to come out and vote. Instead, the parties were, with their electoral machines, demographic targeting, and the air war.

The same thing is in play, in a smaller scale, here at the AMS. While the Elections Committee is certainly doing a good job at promoting the elections themselves, they are not working within the precedent set by former elections committees, nor within conventional interpretation of the Code, when it comes to the application of campaign regulations.

Already we see some of the effects of this, albeit in a good way. The disqualification of Sean Kim due to insufficient signatures was not only the right thing to do, given the circumstances, but it was an action that was taken after consulting with the relevant university offices.

While a strict interpretation of Code is no doubt a good thing, I think there has to be some recognition of the fact that the Code is (shock!) an imperfect document, and it works under some bizarre functional hybrid of both Civil Code and Common Law. While the actual structure of the Code tends towards the Civil model, in terms of codifying everything, there is always going to be a degree of ambiguity in the Code that is going to be filled in by the putty of students. While this is not necessarily something that is good one hundred percent of the time (see: amsUNfail re. communications policy), it generally gives the AMS the flexibility to work as it should.

What then is with this hullabaloo over speaking to candidates? Apparently the EC is taking the stance that any kind of statement published in non-VFM media are a form of public campaigning. I think the conflict here is a difference of opinion between how Code is written – a difference between prescription and proscription.

It is not my opinion that anything not specifically prescribed by Code as an exemption to the regulations on public campaigning is banned. To paraphrase FiveThirtyEight.com,

First, there is the fallacy that anything not specifically prescribed by the [Code] is [banned].

This is all outlined in Code § 9.A.2.7.b, which specifically enumerates what must be considered campaigning. It also has the catch all phrase:

including but not limited to

the purpose of which is to give the EC sufficient leeway to inform a candidate that what they are doing is campaigning if they so choose. As the corollary to this, they are also able to indicate that any activity not listed on that list is not campaigning. The only place that the hands are tied are by the following section, which enumerates a number of things that the committee may not consider campaigning.

The following things must be considered campaigning:

i) postering;
ii) classroom announcements;
iii) announcements on listservs or websites;
iv) public speaking, especially when amplified by megaphones, microphones, or other similar devices;
v) distributing buttons, leaflets, brochures, handbills, food or drink;
vi) distributing or wearing T-shirts with campaign slogans or other campaign messages on them; and
vii) mass mailings, including e-mail mass mailings.

The following things must not be considered campaigning.

  1. Private Communications
  2. Circulating Nomination Forms
  3. Publishing things in a VFM
  4. Responding to a VFM

Other than that, it is completely up to the discretion of the EC as to whether they recognize any other activity (such as speaking to non-VFM media) as campaigning or not. I would hope that the committee can interpret the spirit that lives within the exemptions, that of wanting to encourage discussion with media sources on campus and elsewhere, in the way that will foster an open and constructive debate (ie. I hope they change their mind).

Their hands are not tied – Elections Committee, it’s up to you. Or, as UBC would say it, Tuum est.


Please remember to vote for the Radical Beer Tribune in Continuous VFM.


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