Shaffin Siddiqui ’22 has been disqualified from the election for University Student Government (USG) Academics Chairperson due to campaign violations. After being issued a probation on campaigning for promoting his campaign on the USG-run Free Food listserv, Siddiqui was ultimately disqualified due to a Facebook-Messenger-related technicality.
With Siddiqui disqualified, Christian Potter ’22 will assume the position. Students still have until noon on Dec. 11 to vote for USG President, Vice President, Undergraduate Life Chair, and first-year class senators.
“It’s kind of unfortunate that he was disqualified, especially … after having put so much work into the campaign already, and already developing a platform,” current USG President Zarnab Virk ’20 noted. “It’s just unfortunate that it happened based on a technicality.”
On Dec. 8, the Muslim Students’ Association had $200 worth of Turkish food left over from an event, entitled Muslim Monologues. Siddiqui, the organization’s president, thought he would seize that opportunity to promote his campaign.
According to section 8.1 of the USG Elections Handbook, candidates are allowed an expenditure allowance of $50, and “[n]o candidate is permitted to spend in excess of the reimbursable allotment.”
At 8:14 pm on Dec. 8, Siddiqui sent an email to the Free Food mailing list with the subject line, “FREE Delicious Turkish Food in Wilcox Commons.” The initial email contained a photo of upwards of ten large tins of food with a campaign flier held up in the foreground. Accompanying this photo, Siddiqui wrote, “VOTE SHAFFIN Siddiqui for USG Academic chair tomorrow!!! WITH SHAFFIN YOULL [sic] BE RELAXIN.’”
Two-and-a-half hours later, he responded with another photo of the food and wrote, “There is plenty left!!! Seconds are welcome!!! Also, vote Shaffin for USG Academic Chair.”
Because the food was already paid for, Siddiqui said he did not originally think it would qualify as a campaign expense. Though no expense was incurred on his part, Siddiqui noted that because the food “has an intrinsic monetary value” that he associated with his campaign, USG considered it a violation.
“In these campaigns, anything that has your name on it … counts as campaigning material,” Virk noted. “The fact that his picture was there, like he’s holding a poster next to the food, that kind of indicated that this $200 was part of his campaign.”
Recognizing that the infraction was unintentional, Virk said USG asked Siddiqui to send the Free food listserv an apology. In a 11:58 p.m. email, Siddiqui wrote that, though still available for students to enjoy, “the leftover food depicted in the previous email is not affiliated with [his] campaign for USG Academic Chair.”
Additionally, because of this infraction, USG suspended Siddiqui’s online campaigning. Siddiqui would still appear on the ballot, but he would no longer be allowed to campaign via social media.
Siddiqui told The Daily Princetonian that he intended to follow this rule, but that another technicality ultimately led to his disqualification.
Unable to post to listservs and social media, Siddiqui said he resorted to texting students he knew individually. With some students whose phone numbers he did not have, he reached out via the app Facebook Messenger. The Elections Handbook’s Violations and Penalties section specifies, however, that candidates who lose the ability to campaign online also lose the ability to campaign via “Facebook Messages.”
“I guess one of my personal contacts — God knows who — decided to report me for some reason,” Siddiqui said.
“For me, campaigning — or social media campaigning — was strictly limited to public Facebook announcements, or an Instagram story, etc.” he added. “But it didn’t occur to me that individually by texting other people, I am still within … the bounds of ‘social media campaigning’ … For me, using Messenger was essentially analogous to using WhatsApp to contact my friends from abroad.”
In addition to campaigning via Facebook Messenger, other students continued posting on Siddiqui’s behalf. Though noting that controlling the posts of others can be difficult, Virk again pointed to the Handbook, which states that “[c]andidates are responsible for ensuring their supporters follow [the] rules.”
“I just wish that he had … taken the time to review in depth before beginning to campaign and before continuing to campaign,” Virk said.
In regards to his general feeling surrounding disqualification, Siddiqui said he is not “salty,” as some might be led to believe.
“No hard feelings,” Siddiqui reiterated. “USG was doing their job. I thought I was doing mine, but I guess I made a mistake.”
“The way I’ve been kind of dealing with this has been through, more or less, a religious undertone of, like, ‘God has a plan. I have a plan. Sometimes his overrides mine,’” he added. “His is the more prudent one, ultimately.”
Additionally, Siddiqui thinks the Academics Committee will be in good hands with Potter.
“Christian Potter is, I think, probably eminently more qualified than I am to be Academics Chair,” he said, “and quite frankly, I think it’s probably for the best that I didn’t get that position.”
In his campaigning platform, Potter wrote about his experience on the Academics Committee, his involvement with Honor Code reform efforts, and his role on the Committee on the Course of Study. He also wrote that, if elected, he hopes to “fight for the implementation of a retroactive PDF option, joint concentrations, a more flexible add/drop period, and a review of the certificate programs.”