Student elections: can new rules avert disaster?

Student senators are set to vote on tweaks to the election committee bylaws Friday, including measures to clarify who’s working for which campaign and the institution of a demerit system.

Bylaw revision is "an annual process," student government advisor Natalee Webb said.

The elections committee is hoping the changes will prevent problems that led to last year’s upheaval, when elections were cancelled partway through campaigning.

Few want to repeat an election like last year, in which students alleged that the elections committee violated a student campaign manager’s right to free speech. The question student senators face is whether the new proposals will effect positive change.

The new language defines the terms "slate" and "agent" to spell out how candidates work together and connect the dots between volunteers and candidates.

Under the proposed system of giving candidates points for infractions, a candidate could have posting privileges withdrawn for 72 hours. Candidates could earn the demerits from two categories: one point minor infractions such as posting in areas forbidden by the university or 10 point major infractions like tearing down an opponent’s posters.

Ryan Schowen, election committee chair, said assessing points against a candidate is a means of making all parties more accountable. The committee looked for a way to enforce rules without disqualifying candidates. A posting ban was one of the few options open to the committee, Schowen said, since posting fliers is "a privilege, not a right."

"There just isn’t more that we could legally do."

The committee had briefly considered giving rule-breakers a token fine of $1 per point, but was advised against it, Schowen said. He added that the 72-hour period applied only to posting paper campaign material, not candidate speech.

Schowen characterized last year’s rules as "somewhat scary" and said that the committee members were widely perceived as "acting on their whims."

Knowing exactly what the rules are helps candidates run a better campaign, Schowen said. "They will be very much aware of what the consequences could be."

"This will keep the election committee safe, in many ways, from candidates feeling like there’s been favoritism," Schowen said. "It will also protect candidates."

Senate Pro Tempore Adas Lis shares Schowen’s perception of bias in last year’s election committee. However, he worries that the point system is open to committee manipulation as well and is unsure how Friday’s vote will play out.

Amara Marino, student government president in 2003-04, served as an ex-officio member of the election committee during last spring’s elections. She said talk about refining the bylaws has been around for years.

Schowen describes the election season as an intense process at best. Popular sentiment in the senate is that no one wants disrupted elections, but approval for the suggestions is not yet solid.

At their meeting last Friday, senators discussed finer points of the proposed changes.

Ana Johns asked for a more concise definition of "agent" to cut down on ambiguity. Election committee member Aaron O’Donnell replied that ambiguity is

desirable" so that there’s room for the committee to interpret the bylaws."

Student government Vice President and senate president Ryan Klute noted that "The bylaws are a code of honor, and are written for honest people."

Senators may have another motivation for approving the bylaws besides simplifying the campaign season. The sooner bylaws are approved, the sooner candidates can begin work on their campaigns. Students have until next Friday to apply for candidacy.

The election will be held the second week of March.


Click here to see a draft PDF of the Elections Committee Bylaws