USF students are bracing for a busy election season in 2008. Although students are voting for whom should be the president of the United States in November, they are also voting for student body president in February.
Like national elections, SG politics come with its fair share of controversy. Last February, candidates for the SG presidency set up mobile polling stations that offered pizza to students, a move some said swayed potential voters in an unethical way. There were also reports of campaign workers instructing students how to vote, and it was unclear whether these workers told students who to vote for or just showed them how the process worked.
In response to this controversy, Supervisor of Elections for Student Government (SG) Cassandra Hall has introduced legislation to revise the rules specifically for SG elections, creating guidelines for mobile polling.
“I want to create a fair and unbiased election where everyone has their own vote,” Hall said.
In Spring 2007, former Supervisor of Elections Devin Lee revamped an SG statute that detailed the responsibilities and duties of those working for the Election Rules Committee (ERC). The rewritten version said any student wishing to actively campaign could do so without any registration with the ERC. Lee also removed the section that addressed mobile polling stations. This section previously prohibited any candidate from setting up his or her own polling station to get students to vote. In its absence, many candidates took advantage of these rules and set up tables with laptops around campus and persuaded students to vote, according to 2007 reports from the Oracle.
Hall said her resolution was created to precisely address this concern.
“It was a preemptive strike,” she said.
The new resolution states official campus organizations – meaning those funded with activity and service fees – are the only organizations allowed to set up a mobile polling station. All candidates, campaign managers and individuals are not allowed to have a polling station. Any organizations affiliated with any candidate are also not allowed to have a station. Hall said she wants to increase the student vote and reach out to voters in any way possible.
“I’m attempting to do something that will reach students,” she said.
However, not all senators feel restricting mobile polling stations to only non-affiliated campus organizations is a good thing.
“At that point you eliminate many organizations on campus because, historically, many of the candidates have been very involved on campus,” Senator Keenan Arodak said. “You can attempt to keep people from doing what they did last year, but that’s why we have the commissions,” he said in reference to the Deputy Commissioner and the ERC Commissioner.
Arodak said he thinks Hall underestimates her authority.
“She has the authority to say, ‘if you don’t follow me, three strikes and you’re out,'” he said.
Hall can throw a candidate out of a race if he or she doesn’t follow rules and proper procedure, Arodak said.
Senate President Nathan Davison, however, feels that the resolution is still in the early stages.
“There were some questions about the resolution, mainly how we define mobile polling and do we want it defined like this,” said Davison.
Right now, mobile polling is not recognized in the statutes and that is why it was exploited last year, he said.
The current version of the legislation’s mobile polling restrictions still leaves room for cronyism.
“When only an organization is running it (without supervision from the ERC), there can be corruption,” he said.
Although the resolution has not been passed, Davison hopes the new version will be clear and concise and voted through soon.
“If there are any changes this close to running, we want to be as clear as possible,” he said.
Campaigning starts Feb. 4.
Senator Juan Carlos Soltero is in favor of the bill, but agrees with Davison that it needs some work.
“It’s a great way to engage student organizations,” Soltero said. There was shadiness in past elections and we want to improve this by changing the statutes, he said.
Soltero said he and Davison are working to amend the resolution to give the mobile polling stations more oversight and to make sure they are fair to campaigners, organizations and the student body.
“It’s a good start,” he said. “It just needs a little modification.”
Some students think mobile polling is good because it makes voting easier, but that it needs to be regulated.
“They need a stamp, it’s the easiest way to do it,” said Joshua Finch, a junior majoring in history, who argued voting should be monitored like entry to clubs.
“It was convenient for me, I wouldn’t have voted without it,” said Eric Lund, a sophomore majoring in business.
Hall hopes that mobile polling will also increase student involvement with SG and the ERC.
“Many people don’t know this, but anybody can file a grievance against a candidate,” Hall said, citing an example of the lack of student involvement during campaigning. If a candidate or a student running is not following the student code of conduct, you can file a complaint with the ERC, she said.
Those filed against will have to go to judicial services to defend themselves in court. If found innocent, the case is dropped. If a candidate is found guilty, he or she gets a point. After accumulating 10 points, he or she is not allowed to run for office.
“A lot of people don’t know about the process, and I want to change that,” she said.
Some students, however, feel that the lack of involvement stems from SG’s lack of outreach.
“As an NSE (national student exchange) student, I don’t know anything about Student Government. They don’t reach out to me,” said Erik Myxster, a sophomore majoring business.