Next week, the Student Government (SG) Assembly will vote on a proposed set of changes to its bylaws to modify the rules and oversight for student elections. The changes, developed by a student committee over the summer, were spurred on by an election cycle last spring fraught with accusations of cheating. If approved by two-thirds of the Assembly, the bylaw amendments would make the election process more transparent, more explicitly define what constitutes an infraction of election rules, and formalize an appeals process for accused candidates. These changes are a good first step toward addressing several of the problems in last year’s election and will make it easier for there to be a consistent interpretation of election rules moving forward. For these reasons, the Assembly should approve the changes next week.
Under the new rules, the Election and Rules Committee (E&R)—responsible for overseeing the election—would be prohibited from hearing anonymous complaints. The committee would also be required to make all of its meetings public, something that it did not do last year. While the committee is already required to do this under Article I, Section V of the SG constitution, the proposed change reflects SG’s unequivocal commitment to transparency and will ensure that all students will have a chance to air their concerns.
The proposed changes also clarify which activities are against election rules and which are not. While campaigning before the official election begins is already prohibited, the new rules would further explain that “reaching out to individuals to learn about issues, attempting to find running mates, and having exploratory conversations and e-mail exchanges are not considered to be early campaigning.” The change directly addresses an issue last year in which E&R imposed and then reversed a vote penalty on a slate accused of early campaigning. Laying out the kind of behavior that results in an infraction in the SG bylaws ensures that both E&R and candidates will have an understanding of the rules before the election begins.
There will also be more oversight of E&R, and accused candidates will have a fairer appeals process if the changes are approved. While E&R has had the final say over all appeals in previous years, one of the proposed amendments gives the SG cabinet approval over the committee’s appeals decisions. If the cabinet rejects E&R’s decision, it would have the authority to override the committee and issue its own verdict.
The extra layer of review also provides a check on E&R’s designated discretion in determining the meaning of potentially ambiguous terms like “integrity” and “sabotage,” a word that last year’s committee had trouble defining.
Requiring that all complaints be made public is certainly needed to make the committee more transparent, but a student afraid of being ridiculed by the student body for whistle-blowing might be discouraged from bringing an infraction to light. When deliberating the amendments, the General Assembly should weigh the circumstances under which it might be acceptable for a candidate to submit an anonymous complaint.
The proposed changes also leave the extent of a penalty and a standard of acceptable evidence up to the discretion of E&R. Codifying specific penalties for specific infractions will ensure that rules are applied consistently and discourage candidates from breaking them. Making standards to ensure that evidence is credible will protect the accused and ensure that they are presumed innocent until they are found guilty.
By following through on a promise to reform E&R, SG—a body often criticized for being ineffective—can begin the year with a concrete achievement. After approving the changes next week, SG should take this effectiveness to its other goals this year.
Rebecca Guterman recused herself from the writing of this editorial.
The Editorial Board consists of the Editors-in-Chief and the Viewpoints Editors.