May 3, 2013

Election oversight

SG must immediately restructure Elections and Rules Committee to guarantee electoral accountability.

Impact’s victory in Student Government (SG) elections last night ended a campaign that has been plagued by candidates’ allegedly unethical behavior. While it has been disappointing to see ideas about improving our campus overshadowed by these accusations, equally alarming has been the inability of the Election and Rules Committee (E&R) to ensure a fair election. Although the committee has had to deal with a striking number of allegations, the way that it has handled these complaints has been opaque, unfair to accused candidates, and inconsistent with the SG Constitution. Impact must work with the outgoing slate and the rest of SG to immediately address fundamental problems in E&R so as to restore fairness in elections and trust in SG.

Last month, E&R chair and fourth-year Lester Ang told the Maroon that the committee “reserves the right to reveal as much as we can to the complainant and the public.” The committee’s need to deliberate privately is understandable given the sensitivity of the accusations it hears, but it also must be transparent under SG’s Constitution: Article 1, Section 5 mandates that “all meetings, impeachment trials, and other operations of Student Government” shall be open to all students. While E&R took significant steps toward transparency by eventually publicizing its database of complaints and meeting minutes last week, the committee never held any public meetings, nor did it announce when it would deliberate. To ensure transparency in the future, the committee should be required to post its meeting minutes and have a clear policy about when to reveal the names of those involved in ongoing investigations. E&R should also hold public meetings where students can voice concerns about election fairness before the committee.

Despite applying five vote deductions and disqualifying the only official candidate for Community and Government Liaison, the committee has no clear definition for what constitutes an infraction of campaign rules. For example, in a comprehensive list of campaign guidelines distributed to candidates this year, E&R lists “spreading false rumors about other candidates; sabotaging another slate’s campaign, etc.,” as actions that could result in a major penalty. The guidelines, however, do not explain what constitutes “sabotage.” More disturbingly, minutes from E&R’s April 23 meeting show that the committee spent a considerable amount of time figuring out what the word meant in the context of the election before imposing a major penalty on a slate that engaged in it. If the committee itself does not have a clear understanding of what constitutes an infraction, it is unfair to expect a slate to know any better. Ang has admitted that interpretations of campaign rules change yearly with each new committee—a problem that could be minimized by explicit definitions of what behavior will result in an infraction. Requiring the E&R chair to serve for consecutive years or mandating that the position be filled by someone with E&R experience will help ensure a more consistent set of rules.

Beyond implementing clearer rules, E&R must institute standards of proof that complainants must meet in order to ensure that the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty. The committee currently has no such stated standards, and its meeting minutes reveal that the credibility of evidence is up to E&R’s discretion. The April 23 minutes, for instance, show that “the integrity of the evidence” in a complaint was up for debate; subsequently, and without explanation, the committee found the evidence “convincing and acceptable,” but only on the strength of a majority vote.

The election of Impact—a slate whose platform centered on achieving progress on significant campus issues—indicates that students are enthusiastic about the potential of a new SG to effect change at the University. In order to build on this extension of trust to SG and implement its platform, Impact’s first priority needs to be reforming an institution that can maintain that level of trust no matter who is running or elected.

The Editorial Board consists of the Editors-in-Chief and the Viewpoints Editors.