While most students are bracing for final exams and anticipating a long holiday break, several members of Student Government are gearing up for another presidential/senatorial election season, one that SG hopes will run more smoothly than its predecessors.
A trend has begun to develop among SG elections, forcing many campaigns to battle against the SG supreme court to remain in the election. Due to numerous inconsistencies within the Election Rules Commission (ERC) – the group that runs the election each year – previous presidential candidates found themselves charged with grievances ranging from using unapproved signs to allowing campaign supporters to distribute materials within restricted zones, such as the USF Library.
Aside from preparing for the candidates, Supervisor of Elections Devin Lee is reviewing applications for ERC members.
“At this time I’ve only gotten five people who’ve applied for the positions, and there’s six positions on the ERC minimum other than myself, and I would like to have a much wider pool to select from,” Lee said. “However, four of the positions have to be confirmed by the senate, which I would like to do by their final meeting – which is next week – so I’m kind of hoping that people will rush if they really are interested.”
Lee explained that the four main positions are deputy supervisors, the fifth is a marketing position and the sixth is for a supervisor of senatorial elections.
Operations should move more fluidly this year because of revisions to Title VII of the SG statutes, Lee said. Title VII – written by Lee – pertains to the handling of SG elections and the ERC.
“I think the changes in the ERC rules earlier this year will not necessarily keep the court out of it but ensure that the court is making the right decision,” Lee said. “Ultimately what I’ve done is gotten rid of the opportunity where a candidate can contest an election for no good reason, no valid reason at all. However, if they really are affected by something they can take it to the court, but what we needed to do there was to make sure that the court couldn’t be corrupt as in the past, and to do that we’ve put limits on the decisions the court can make. We’ve put limitations on the amount of time they can take to make these decisions, how they can handle the appeals and the contesting of the elections.”
Lee said other changes that students can expect to see include giving candidates the freedom to spend campaign money on T-shirts and other promotional items to distribute to students.
Before voting begins, Lee and his commission will walk the campus to keep a close eye on the campaigns, in hopes of catching violators.
“As far as my staff goes, I want to encourage them to walk the campus during the election to see what’s going on, just to get out more … because the people who filed the grievances didn’t have any evidence or proof to support what they saw,” Lee said.
Lee also said the ERC will place polling stations around campus at different computer labs so more students can vote.
The last four presidential elections have ended in a runoff, in which the decision has come down to just a few hundred votes. Many tickets have been penalized and spent weeks in front of the senate and supreme court. There have even been instances where tickets have been disqualified only to be reinstated, and even more cases where tickets attempted to overturn the results. Such was the case with student body President Frank Harrison’s campaign last spring.
Lee explained that his revision of Title VII has created a more relaxed system for candidates.
“You’ll see the rules aren’t as strict as they usually are. The ERC has a little more power to make decisions,” Lee said. “I think there will be less grievances filed, and I think the students will see a more easy-going election and that they will be able to concentrate more on campaigns and not on rules being enforced.”
Lee said he still thinks it’s necessary to hold all candidates accountable for their actions, and he will be taking this position very seriously.
“That’s the job of the ERC,” he said. “We have to make decisions even if they are decisions that the candidate may not like. If there is at least enough evidence to back up the decision that the ERC made, the court will at least realize that the ERC did make the best decision and uphold that decision.”
Lee said his main objective this year is to combat low voter turnout. He cited that last year, only 11 percent of students voted. He hopes to raise that number to 20.
“My No. 1 goal is the voter turnout,” Lee said. “I feel the more people a president gets elected by, the more power he has when he goes before the Board of Trustees or (USF) President (Judy) Genshaft or anyone with any authority. He can say, ‘This many people backed me, I got 10,000 students to vote for me.'”