Over the past few years, our Student Government Association has been degraded by waves of corrupt presidents and troubled elections. This year, the Jankoski-Amsini presidency has punctuated the ineffectiveness of an SGA with lackluster leadership, specifically the glaring issues associated with the election board confirmation process.
After violating numerous election rules during his campaign and narrowly escaping impeachment with the help of professional legal council, Jankoski finished his term as president by delaying the nomination of an election board chair and accomplishing little, if any, of the platform on which his campaign was run.
The nomination, and delayed confirmation of, this year’s election board chair is an example of the shortfalls within our SGA. The chair must be nominated by the current president and then confirmed by the senate and finance board. What does not make sense, though, is a president who was found guilty of numerous campaign violations being the sole entity responsible for bringing forward the person whose job it will be to uphold election rules. This year, the senate was almost forced to confirm a candidate whom they were unsure of because of how late he was nominated.
As this year’s election looms, concerns of harassment and electronic voting rule violations have been circulating once again. In the past, there have been instances of students being followed back to their dorms, having campaigners take their phones to submit votes and a slew of other types of voter harassment. Unfortunately, violations are difficult to substantiate and as a result dismissed by the election board. Evan Leiter-Mason, last year’s election board chair, said that “in the past the volume of violations and the speed at which they came in made it difficult to make them all public,” and that “the majority were not actionable because of a lack of evidence.”
This year’s chair, Robert Caverly, has released a new set of election rules. Within rule 10, the board states “harassing voters in the interest of collecting more votes is not only immoral but illegal … Not only will the candidate be automatically disqualified for violations of this nature, but they will also be subject to the legal repercussions of their actions.”
A zero tolerance policy on harassment is both excellent and necessary. However, rule seven leaves the harassment policy in a grey area: “Candidates or campaign representatives may approach students to encourage them to walk over to the a device [sic] to cast a vote in the election.”
Allowing candidates or campaign representatives to approach students and “encourage” them to walk over to devices at which they may cast a vote opens students to the possibility of harassment – we’ve seen loose interpretations of election rules before – and directly contradicts rule 10.
Caverly has also instituted a three-strike system for campaign violations: “There will be an absolute maximum of three total violations a campaign can receive. If a candidate receives a total of three violations – regardless of their severity – they will be disqualified from the election immediately upon the third violation being voted on by the election board … If the election board judges a campaign violation as serious enough they can vote to ban a candidate from the election immediately regardless of the number of current violations.”
However, this rule gives the board discretion in judging the severity of violations. The problem with discretion in this presidential race arose when the election chair himself was nominated by a president to whom rules mean little and a lack of oversight has been beneficial. If new election rules are to be instituted, they must be clearly worded with little room for interpretation by the campaigns.
The idea of bringing back polling stations and eliminating electronic voting this year is currently being considered. Polling stations would mean that the chance for election fraud and rule violations is greatly decreased. The argument has been made that stations mean less voter turnout. Frankly, we would rather see a lesser turnout if that means less harassment and an increase in the validity of the election. Perhaps it would be best to take this year as a learning experience, temporarily eliminate electronic voting, and get back to the core values of democracy on which the SGA should be operating.
Going forward, outreach on the part of the chair is key. The student body needs to be informed of the election rules, what constitutes harassment and what their rights are when it comes to voting. It is the chair’s responsibility to disseminate that information by whatever means necessary. A good start would be posting in academic buildings, residence halls and The Commons, as well as online outlets such as myUMBC and social media. Campaign representatives should even be required to give out information regarding election rules while campaigning.
While outreach on the part of the election board could be improved, and polling stations can be implemented, these are not permanent fixes to the camps of individuals in any campaign that find it appropriate to bend and break rules in the hope of slipping through regulatory cracks. Our elections have been inherently strained by corruption for years, and fixing that means being proactive in fighting those who cheat through more stringent sanctions and an appointing process for the election board chair that keeps them out of the political game.