A new election code and what went wrong last time

Senate, Sarah
Photo by Sarah Pickering

At the first Student Senate meeting of the semester, Elections Commissioner Jacob Turner proposed several amendments to the Election Code, which the Senate voted to adopt. These changes follow last year’s Senate General Elections held in February that were marked by multiple Election Code violations. “I found that nothing was being done according to code,” Turner said, “that essentially, the whole process was kind of being done on the fly.”

According to the Election Code in place during last year’s elections, “The filing period shall be at least one week in length and begin at least two weeks prior to the elections.” Last February, however, filing was announced on the sixth, just one week before the election date and lasted only three days. The code also states, “a write-in candidate can only begin campaigning after the formal debates hosted by Student Senate have concluded.” Given that Student Senate held the formal debates the day before the election on the thirteenth, campaigning as a write-in candidate was virtually impossible. A process that—according to Election Code—should have taken at least two weeks was completed within a matter of six days.

These violations were brought to light in a letter signed by more than 40 candidates, senators, and general members of the Student Association addressed to Student Senate on February 10. Current junior Anthony Bennett, Hardin Hall senator and a candidate for Senate president at the time, helped write the letter and was among those who signed. “I just wanted Senate to follow its own rules,” Bennett said. The letter’s grievances addressed the violations made concerning the time given for filing and the time given for campaigning—especially for write-in candidates. The letter also stated that “The Student Senate did not decide on the date of the election but was instead told the date of the election. Who/what body decided the date of the election?”

According to Bennett, the Elections Commission at the time responded to his letter by email, informing him that “the reason the election worked like that was because it was more efficient, and it worked better for the students.” In the email, Bennett said the Elections Commissioner, Jordan May, was under the impression that previous elections operating in line with the Election Code had seen fewer respondents filing to run because of the mandated timeline, so they shortened that timeline. “So, then my concern was: why didn’t you change it [the Elections Code]?” Bennett said. “It was just wrong.”

Turner, current Elections Commissioner, was also concerned about the code violations last semester, signing Bennett’s letter and writing his own. The response to his concerns was one of indifference. “The Senate Exec members that I spoke with didn’t address the concerns,” Turner said. “They weren’t particularly caring of it, and that was what bothered me the most about it.” Turner took his complaints to Dean Wiltgen through an official complaints process.

It was this process that eventually led to the recently adopted revised Election Code. Changes to the actual code are minimal; it includes more inclusive and clarified language, the Elections Commission is made slightly more independent from Senate, polling times are extended to a 12-hour window, and write-in candidates are allowed to campaign after the mandated informational meeting that all candidates officially on the ballot must attend. When asked how future elections of Student Senate will be conducted by the new Elections Commission, Turner said, “My role as Elections Commissioner is making sure those people are democratically elected into power with all of the right steps—that the people that are on Senate next year are the gold standard.”

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