On Wednesday night, the Student Association Judicial Board will meet to determine the legitimacy of the runoff election for vice president for finance. In the initial election, Ethan Shepherd won, but in the runoff, he lost to Thomas Sheehan. The Planning, Research and Elections Committee (PRE) decided to hold the runoff after receiving a formal complaint from a student saying Shepherd solicited her vote. Shepherd filed a grievance to the Judicial Board days later, arguing that the runoff never should have been held in the first place (the specific contents of his grievance will not be made public until after the decision is made).
The Judicial Board will have the task of determining the constitutionality of the PRE’s decision, a task we took upon ourselves. The SA Bylaws grants the PRE the ability to discipline an individual or group in any way they see fit in order to enforce their rules. After reviewing the notes taken at the PRE meeting, we believe this decision was completely within their power.
In going through the election rules, however, we found that the way they are written is profoundly unclear.
The issue is with the Management Policies and Procedures (MPP), which is supposed to specify election rules. However, the document is anachronistic. It defines polling places as “any building in which there is an active ballot box or electronic voting system during any Student Association run election.” This definition may have worked in the past when students cast paper ballots, or went to specific areas to vote on SA-provided laptops, but this categorization has gotten murky with recent electoral changes.
Instead of having designated polling areas on campus, students voted through email, enabling them to cast their vote from anywhere on campus. According to PRE Chair Katherine Tashman, this means that everyone with a smartphone or tablet is carrying a polling place with them in their pocket.
According to the language in the MPP, no one can publicize for a candidate within 100 feet of any building while voting is taking place. The point of these rules is so that a candidate cannot stand outside of the ballot box watching the voter make his or her choice. Yet, with “polling places” all over campus, these rules are hard to define and even harder to enforce. While it may be easy to identify this intimidating behavior at a physical polling place, it becomes harder to police when people are voting on their phones, when it can take place literally anywhere.
The accusation against Shepherd was that he stood over a voter and encouraged her to take out her phone and vote for him. While we agree with the PRE that this is a case of vote solicitation, and in violation of the Election Supplement, we can understand how the new voting methods may have made things unclear. Where is the line between campaigning and coercing, and how can voters — or candidates — know when a candidate has crossed it?
The SA has modernized voting methods, but they may have gotten ahead of themselves. The rules need to be updated to reflect the realities of today’s elections. If the SA cannot create reasonable, specific rules to address today’s voting methods, then perhaps we should return to on-site polling. If we went back to on-site voting, we would lose some of the convenience of being able to vote instantly and anywhere. However, we would gain a peace of mind knowing that the rules are clearly defined and easy to follow. If we want fair, responsible voting, we need to give the candidates rules that they can reasonably follow.