Monday marked the first day students could submit applications to run inFebruary’s election forstudent body president and vice president – an early start to an election that will see many changes.
A new policy for this year’s elections grants the Student Government Election Rules Committee (ERC) more latitude while enforcing election rules and a bigger budget, boosting the $7,000 fromstudent-paid Activity and Service fees used for purchasing marketing materials such as T-shirts and ad space during the 2010-11 academic year to $10,000 for this year.
James Bodden, ERC supervisor of elections, said the ERC will also approach Tampa businesses for additional sponsorship in monetary gifts and gifts in kind. Last year, the ERC raised $1,000 from individual sponsors.
The changes also allow the ERC to file grievances, formal letters documenting suspected violations of campaign rules, if there is suspicion of wrongdoing on the campaign trail, Bodden said. Before, the ERC was not allowed to file grievances and could only act on those submitted bystudents.
“We can file grievances now and then we have the ability to investigate grievances,” Bodden said. “Basically, we wanted to have the ability to look into things ourselves and avoid collusion among candidates or any violations. We just really want to avoid that and make sure the right people are in the race that are following the rules, and I think the students will appreciate that too.”
The ERC is also able to resubmit grievances filed by students that didn’t follow the correct procedures. In the past, incorrectly filled grievances would be thrown out on such technicalities.
“We’re going to try to reserve that for very large infractions, like maybe someone wasoperating a mobile polling station,” Bodden said. “But if someone was sort of in the wrong place or a flier wasn’t the right way, we’ll let (students) file the grievance, but if something was serious enough we kind of take it up to make sure it was executed correctly.”
Grievances can be filed for major or minor violations of campaign rules. A minor violation would include chalking in an undesignated area, while a major violation would include collusion, when candidates illegally work together in secrecy, or candidates creating their own polling stations for student voters.
Once a grievance is filled, the ERC meets to decide whether to uphold it. If a candidate receives one major violation or three minor violations, they are disqualified from the election.
The new changes also did away with requiring candidates to receive 150 signatures from students to be added to the ballot because it was too easy for candidates to falsify signatures. Bodden said there was no way to verify that the person signing the petition belonged to the name they signed and expelling the signature requirement could increase the candidate field.
“It was just impossible to verify if the signatures were real or not,” he said. “We were seeing over 5,000 signatures (from all candidates) and we can’t investigate it,” he said. “You have to see what major they are and that’s restricted by the university.”
Current student body President Matthew Diaz said he predicts the changes made to the ERC and election process will attract more candidates and didn’t think the removal of the petition process would hinder candidates from connecting with their constituency.
“If I didn’t have to do it, I might not have met a handful or a group of people or a certain constituency on campus, if I didn’t have too get the (signatures),” he said. “But I think just running for office, even if the signatures weren’t there, I would still meet with students and still get a feel for what they want.”
Andrew Uhlir, supervisor of Senate elections, said the ERC hopes to attract 10,000 voters to the polls for the presidential election.