Elections Board must become more transparentBy Josh Shumate | 03/19/2017 5:04pm
CW / Kylie Cowden
I want to preface this column by stating that I believe this year’s Elections Board has done a pretty good job. I take no issue with any of their specific findings. Additionally, on more than one occasion I have said that I believe Elections Board chairwoman, Keeli Mallory, is among the most honest students at the Capstone. This column should not be construed as an attack on the Board or chairwoman Mallory. However, for the good of the University, I believe that the Board needs to take steps to become more transparent.
This past SGA election cycle has been among the most interesting and eventful cycles of my four years at the University. From having the current Machine-backed president run as an independent, to having the first African-American Machine presidential candidate confess his backing, to major elections violations, this cycle has had enough drama to qualify as a GOP presidential primary. One lesson that I believe we must learn from this chaotic cycle is that more information is our friend and not our enemy. By taking steps to provide more clear and open information about election deliberations, the elections board will not only better inform the student body, but also help shield itself from unwarranted allegations of bias.
During the last week of the campaign, the board ruled on numerous complaints against all three presidential candidates. Most of the time, the Board found the candidates not guilty of any violations. However, the race’s eventual (unofficial) winner, Jared Hunter, was found guilty of major campaign violations including lying to the Board and exceeding the campaign spending limit. Immediately following these findings, the Hunter campaign filed an appeal with the Judicial Board, insinuating that the Board found him guilty because of bias in favor of the Roth campaign.
I don’t believe that these accusations are accurate. If the Board voted unanimously that Hunter had committed these violations, then I expect he did. Even upon appeal, the Judicial Board confirmed that Hunter was guilty. However, because the student body was not privy to the information used in the board’s deliberations, the accusations of unfair treatment were much easier to make. In the end, they even made for a good campaign tool for Mr. Hunter when he was faced with questions about being sanctioned by the board. The lack of public information about the evidence against the Hunter campaign provided both cover for the candidate and cannon fodder for accusations of misconduct for the Board, both of which could have been avoided.
The Board should learn from this situation. If the student body is given access to their evidence and deliberations, situations like what occurred this year can be avoided in the future. The Board should open up meetings and make public as much evidence as possible. I know as well as anyone that anonymity can be vital to gaining information about misconduct by campaigns, so it will still be necessary for the Board to hold closed sessions. However, the Board can improve even closed sessions by providing readouts that give the student body much needed information while also protecting sensitive material.
I want to commend the Board on a successful campaign season. During Chairwoman Mallory’s two terms at the head of the Board, the Elections Board has made many important reforms to the elections process and the elections manual, but there is still room for improvement. For the sake of everyone involved, I hope that when next year’s Board convenes they make changes that make their deliberations more open and transparent. The student body deserves to know what its student government is up to, and that includes the Elections Board.
Josh Shumate is a graduate student studying public administration. His column runs biweekly.