Posters crowd campus walls amidst 2018 RSU elections

Featured image by Ethan Jakob Craft.

Stacked five or six high and dozens across on surfaces high and low, their presence isn’t exactly subtle. They can be found plastered on ceilings, hanging from stairwells and crumpled up in heaps on the floor. In Kerr Hall alone, there’s nearly 1,700 of them. Pink and white. Green and yellow. Pink and white. Green and yellow.

Yes, it’s poster season.

For the past few years every February, the halls and walls of Ryerson have been transformed into a chaotic collage of colourful campaign posters in widespread get-out-to-vote efforts by hopeful candidates looking to secure a spot as an elected representative of the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU).

However, online, students have decried the posters as wasteful, ineffective and redundant. “There’s just no need to have that many posters, and they don’t really get anything across,” said Hakim Murray, a second-year history student. “It’s just pictures of faces.”

“There’s been lots of complaints about it on campus,” said Daniel Lis, the RSU’s current vice-president education, who described the efficiency with which they are put up as wasteful. “They’re not utilized to their maximum effect, they’re plastered everywhere. And it has a negative effect on the environmentalist’s mind.”

The posters are often placed in clusters and poorly spread out; for example, in Kerr Hall West there are a mere 15 posters, while in Kerr Hall East there are over 700 of them. In the second floor bridge between the Library and Kerr Hall, which takes the average person less than 30 seconds to walk through, there are 270.

“We did our best” to not violate any of the postering guidelines.

According the RSU’s election guidelines, candidates are allocated $500 per person if running for an executive position, and $300 per person for every other position. With this allocation, individual slates often end up with five-digit budgets and spend handsomely on physical campaign materials, including posters.

Despite the outcry from students, several current members of the RSU, as well as candidates seeking election this year, have described the posters as an important and necessary component of a viable election, citing an increase in voter turnout and student engagement since the posters have been in place.

In 2017, which was the first year Ryerson was “plastered” to the degree it is now, voter turnout did increase by an average of more than 70 per cent for executive positions over the previous year.

While acknowledging that 2017 also featured a longer campaign period and several attention-drawing controversies, Lis attributed much of this increase to excessive postering on campus. Not having posters “severely reduces voter turnout,” he said. “It’s not practical in this election” to go paperless.

But that sentiment has not been echoed by everyone. Running a paperless campaign is entirely feasible according to Matthew Smith, who is running for president of the RSU with Ryerson’s Rhino Party. Despite “onesies” being their largest spending category and a Facebook page that lists their address as Hell, Mich., the Rhino Party insists they’re no joke.

This year, the party has not printed a single poster, instead investing its advertising budget in paid social media posts and in-person campaign tactics, like handing out pancakes and stickers on campus. “Facebook ads let you target things really well. In class, you’re going to be on your phone on Facebook ignoring the prof anyway,” said Smith.

Rhino, whose complete budget is available on their website, says they spend approximately 25 cents per 100 views of a targeted post on social media, while one 11” x 17” colour poster from Copyrite can cost between 40 and 79 cents each, depending on the quantity printed.

And while not everyone thinks Rhino — which started as a protest party — actually has a shot at winning by running a paperless campaign, an answer posted to a Reddit ask-me-anything on Feb. 10 says the party believes it has a “reasonable chance” of winning at least one Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science director position.

We’re going from papers and posters more towards online social media and online influencing. That’s where we’re headed. I’d say in about two to three elections from now, these posters won’t be around.

Prior to the start of the campaign period, the RSU released an agenda to all candidates which outlines important dates, voting procedures and key by-laws which must be adhered to. In addition, the agenda also lists 15 regulations which detail the various do’s and don’ts about postering on campus; however, in at least one instance, many of the rules have been broken.

Item five insists that all posters include the phrase: “Recycle after the election/Printed on 100% recycled paper.” And while many posters clearly abide by this rule and contain some variation of the required fine print, many more do not, often having part or all of the phrase added by hand after printing.

Item six asks that only masking tape or tacks be used to affix posters, while seven states that posters cannot be placed on glass. Item nine says that a candidate’s poster may not overlap another candidate’s poster and ten insists that “Each candidate may not poster within six inches (153mm) of another one of their own posters.”

These rules, too, are all broken in one place or another.

In the early morning hours of the campaigning period, which officially began at midnight on Feb. 1, candidates and volunteers alike descended on Ryerson to “plaster the school wall-to-wall,” according to Ram Ganesh, who said his team spent between three and four hours placing over 3,000 Unify posters all across campus.

“We did our best” to not violate any of the postering guidelines, said Ganesh, a fourth-year aerospace engineering student who is running for president with Unify. “It’s the middle of the night, there’s got to be some sort of oversight, and it’s never done with malicious intent,” he said, speaking “on behalf of both sides.”

A representative from Elevate could not be reached for comment, despite our best efforts.

Daniel Lis and Ram Ganesh have both suggested introducing new guidelines for postering, like capping the number of posters that an individual candidate can print or lowering the budget for physical campaign materials. “If students are truly passionate about this issue,” Ganesh said, “then I’ll introduce a motion to take care of that.”

“We’re making a dynamic shift,” said Ganesh. “We’re going from papers and posters more towards online social media and online influencing. That’s where we’re headed. I’d say in about two to three elections from now, these posters won’t be around.”