In a day riddled with controversy, all events leading up to the Student Government elections may seem like the calm before the storm.
Tuesday brought the first of two days of voting and with it several approaches to campaigning that some are calling into question.
Last semester, the soon-to-be Supervisor of Elections, Devin Lee rewrote a SG statute that outlines the responsibilities and duties of those working for the Election Rules Commission and those running for presidential or senatorial office.
In the rewrite, Lee removed a section that said that students involved with campaigning must be registered as part of the ticket’s campaign staff, and then adjusted the wording to say that any student wishing to actively campaign for a ticket may do so without registering and the ticket being in violation of the Rules of Procedure.
Furthermore, Lee also removed a section that forbade any candidate from setting up his or her own polling station in an attempt to get students to vote.
Several senatorial candidates and campus organizations took advantage of the ERC’s lax new policy and chose to set up tables with laptops around campus encouraging students to vote.
Although there is nothing illegal about this procedure, some felt it was unethical due in part that several of those involved with recruiting students to vote were seen wearing campaign shirts for presidential candidate Barclay Harless and vice-presidential candidate Garin Flowers, as well as giving away free pizza to students when they completed their ballot.
“The rules say – it’s kind of open to interpretation – but pretty much that they can do it,” SG Administrative Services (SGAS) Business Manager David Armstrong said. “My opinion is that it’s an absolutely horrible idea. Having someone standing there with a computer and a vote for so-and-so T-shirt (students) aren’t really getting an independent voting idea … It’s troublesome to a lot of students because it’s a little intimidating. From my perspective, I don’t think it should be allowed.”
Several senators were opposed to this way of thinking and instead said that it was each ticket’s prerogative to campaign in the manner they choose.
“If they were collecting (University ID) numbers and passwords in exchange for pizza where the choice was no longer in the hands of the students I would see that as being incredibly unethical,” SG senate Pro-tempore Nathan Davison said. “But if it was simply, ‘Hey, we want you to come support our candidate and here’s their platform along with some free pizza’ and the student is making their own decision … I don’t see the problem with that. It’s more of just a tactic in the same sense that on the national level some people kiss babies and things like that.”
The Society of Automotive Engineers was one group visibly promoting students’ participation in the election by prominently displaying their green and gold bus in the Sun Dome parking lot. SAE set up chairs and tables with laptops and pizza around the bus in the early morning and packed up around 6 p.m., but has plans to come back out today.
“We felt we should do something to give back to Student Government because they’ve done so much for our organization,” said SAE Vice-President and SAFE Team Director Nic Frey.
SAE’s location, like many others, was flanked with Harless/Flowers supporters but Frey denied any affiliation with the ticket, saying that their only goal is to get more students to vote than did in previous years.
Garrick Adams, computer information systems freshman, one of several campaigning for the Harless/Flowers ticket near the SAE bus said that he has been very active with helping the ticket, including chalking, handing out flyers and assisting students in the voting process.
“(Harless) is a really good friend of mine and that was mostly it, I want to support him 100 percent so I’ve been doing everything I can … I want to make sure as many people know about their campaign as possible so that so we can get some votes out for them,” Adams said. “I walk up (to the computer) with (the voter) and I guide (the voter) through the whole process. I don’t stand over their shoulder, though… I kind of just stand here and I turn my back and I let them do it all on their own. It’s always intimidating when people come up to you on campus, but I’m pretty polite, pretty easy to talk to.”
Frey, several campaigners and the Harless/Flowers ticket said they weren’t sure how the pizza ended up at certain locations.
However, according to Five Star Pizza, a man who called himself “Sergio” ordered 50 pizzas Monday evening and picked them up at around 10 a.m. Tuesday morning, before the restaurant was even open for business. Due to privacy policies though, Five Star couldn’t release the first or last name on the credit card used to purchase the pizzas.
“I can’t take credit for it,” Harless said. “We have a lot of campaigners all over the campus.”
This wasn’t the only reason voter advertising came under scrutiny though. Earlier in the semester, the ERC promised to have outdoor computerized polling stations available to students in hopes of lowering voter apathy. However, due to several communication errors, those stations were shut down for the day.
Lee said that he set up an agreement with SGAS’s Coordinator ofStudent Affairs Jennifer Brack that would have full-time staff volunteers from different departments of Student Affairs man the stations as long as the ERC could provide the necessary computers, signs and tables.
Brack and Armstrong said when it came time to place the volunteers at the locations, the ERC had not set up the equipment or posted signs, so they chose to pull their volunteers and not allow them to return today.
“When I was told that they wanted to set up these polling stations, I said that it was a bad idea,” Armstrong said. “Jen (Brack) went to a lot of trouble to secure some staff people to volunteer to help the ERC and the ERC made all sorts of assurances that they would have the stations set up, everything would be provided. Well, this morning, the ERC had no stations set up, hadn’t secured the equipment that they needed – aside from the fact that half of their stations were outside and it was raining. It was turning out to be a total mess.”
Lee said the problem began when the volunteers were promised food, but it came too late.
“The reason in not being ready was because we were delayed in getting ready,” Lee said. “We had a plan to where the Student Affairs staff was to be delivered food and it was (Armstrong’s) responsibility to do this in the morning as well as put out marketing items on the tables. He picked up the food only 20 minutes before the staff was due at the polling stations, so I was forced to wait for him to take care of this before I and my staff could go out and meet the staff that was out there.”
Armstrong said that the food was delivered by the catering office on time, and while he was the one responsible for delivering it, that in no way should have hindered the ERC from setting up their stations.
“I actually put the food together and went out to the volunteer stations where the staff people had shown up, but the ERC had not set any of them up,” Armstrong said. “So it has nothing to do with food.”
Armstrong may not be the only one in SG that Lee finds himself at odds with before the election is over. On Tuesday, senator Matt Coppens filed a request for an ad-hoc committee to be formed to investigate the ERC’s use of marketing funds.
“With lack of promotion of the current election, (members of SG) believe we are going to see a lower number and lower turnout and lower responses and I just wanted an update on the reasons, why there was less marketing done,” Coppens said. “If this can be an impeachment offense (for Lee), then we will proceed with that but my intentions are not to impeach Devin Lee at this point in time.”
Harless’ opponent, Jessica Asuncion, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, 1,146 students had voted, Lee said. The number is almost half of the amount of students who voted in last year’s election.
Students may vote until 7 p.m. today at www.sg.usf.edu/vote. The election results will be announced during halftime at the men’s basketball game tonight.