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Senate passes election rules

December 9, 2010

Student senate passed new senate election rules Nov. 30 with an 18-1 vote.

The original rules were “quite a mess,” said Student Elections Reform Ad Hoc Committee Chair Aaron Bergman. The old rules lacked complete definitions of campaigning, non-traditional students among other things.

Tyler Latz said that he was generally satisfied with the new legislation.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” he said. “Legislation like this always needs to be looked at and worked on progressively.”

Some of the main changes to the rules are the elimination of restrictions on when a candidate can begin campaigning and a more concrete definition of what it is to campaign.

The previous definition was “any activity that is intended to influence voting at an election.” This could be interpreted many different ways as it was during elections last spring when an ethics complaint was filed against presidential candidate Nikki Shonoiki for campaigning early.  Much debate was about whether or not she was actually campaigning and had indeed violated election rules.

“You can see that something small such as a start deadline and the definition of what it means to campaign and what is considered campaigning can cause a nightmare when it comes to the elections,” Bergman said.

He said it was one of his main goals as a senator to solve the issue by reforming the elections into a smoother, more defined process.

The new definition of campaigning is divided into two categories: active campaigning and passive campaigning.

Active campaigning is the distribution of materials, chalking or electronic materials by a candidate or representative of the candidate. Shaking of hands or verbal communication­ — including broadcasting­­ ­— from a candidate with the specific intent to influence voting for a specific candidate or referendum in a Senate election is also considered active campaigning.

Passive campaigning is any campaign activity not initiated by a candidate or representative of the candidate or any activity reasonably likely to be considered campaigning that does not fall under the definition of an active campaign.

The distinguishing fact is whether or not the candidate initiated the message. Since campaigning on election day is against the rules, these definitions of active and passive campaigning protects candidates from a situation such as being approached by a person on election day who inquires about the elections or certain issues while the polls were open.

“I think the ethics grievance that was filed against [Shonoiki] would be a lot harder to be successful with the new election rules on the fact that there is a lot more clear definition of what it means to post something, what it means to be campaigning, and with these new rules, you can start campaigning whenever you want,” Bergman said. “Basically the question of her campaigning before the start of the timeline would never have been brought into question and would never have been an issue at all.”

Another change made to the rules was the definition of non-traditional students.

The definition was the cause of much debate during the Nov. 30 meeting. Undefined in the old rules, the new rules define a non-traditional student that meets one of the following criteria: is 25 years of age or older; holds full-time employment; has at least one dependent other than a spouse; or has been outside of formal education for at least one academic year.

Several senators voiced concerns that the definition of full-time employment was loose and would make it too easy for a student to classify themselves as non-traditional.  The Senate seat for non-traditional student last election was uncontested. An easier classification of who is considered to be a non-traditional student might make it easier for someone to win the election if they also ran uncontested.

The new rules also simplified the process of resolving grievances by leaving most of the decisions and determination of penalty with the ethics committee.

Bergman said that — although he is very proud of the work and accomplishments of the Student Elections Reform Ad Hoc Committee — the new rules still might contain some hiccups.

“Of course they are going to find new problems as technology changes and as the campus changes, but I really hope that with this piece of legislation and with the rest of these rules that things will continue to grow and become better with revisions and amendments,” Bergman said. “Ultimately I’m very, very pleased with the new rules, and I really hope that they become better and stronger as people find more issues with them and correct them.”