Transparency and fairness are key to a democracy – at least in theory.
However, a growing number of students are concerned with the legitimacy of the recent student election.
There’s no need for pointing fingers or petty grudges. Our student body president is Trevor Tooke and that’s final. The issue lies in the rules, which are too flexible, too ambiguous, and too often left to interpretation – an interpretation that seems layered with tradition.
Teams UVoice and Engaged as a Case study:
1. Use of Public Space
The Boards – Spencer Kingman, the president of the Peace and Justice Studies Club, said that there was some concern with the way the billboards were used. Posters were hung for at least two club events to occur at the end of election week. On Monday morning, the club posters had been moved, taken down and/or replaced by election posters.
One member who’d assisted in hanging posters alleged that the club posters seemed to be replaced by UVoice posters specifically, but Kingman noted such details are not provable.
This advertising bombardment might’ve led to a confusion of information (similar to the spread of a strange rumor slandering Engaged’s sports platform, according to Spence Davis and some students in UVU Athletics).
The Kiosks – UVoice had some campaign material roughly 10 feet from a kiosk in the business building that was never removed (picture).
The Rules: “No campaign materials or paraphernalia may be within 50 feet of any election-voting booth, computer lab or computer kiosk.” While precise, one might ask why, if so precise, the rule wasn’t enforced.
2. Utilizing Resources
The Posters – Assistant Athletic Director Nate Mathis has always been happy to sell poster vinyl the UVU Athletics department doesn’t use for campaign material – on one condition: both teams must be permitted to buy the vinyl. He always calls Rebeka Grulich, Assistant Director of Student Activities (SA), to give him the green light.
This year, UVoice were sold vinyl from Mathis. “I would’ve given vinyl to Jack (Waters, Engaged), and for the same price I gave it to Trevor (Tooke, UVoice),” says Mathis. Waters, however, never approached him. Why?
The Funding – Arguably every single international student knows Najib Niazi (Engaged) by name or face. His connections with the International Center bolstered campaigning to UVU’s multicultural constituency; therefore, he asked the Center’s Assistant Director, Steve Crook, for a donation.
Crook called Phil Clegg, Director of Student Life in SA, for permission. Clegg says departmental donations to teams are prohibited, and hence advised Crook not to contribute. (Crook declined to comment about his conversation with Clegg.)
Whereas Tooke was buying the material from Mathis, Niazi was requesting actual cash from Crook. But Engaged interpreted this to mean they couldn’t receive assistance from any departments, leading them to independently buy materials and work off campus, thus Waters didn’t ever approach Mathis.
According to Grulich, teams can and have requested assistance, from election buttons to popcorn makers, from the SA. Although the rules don’t prohibit it, other departments have rarely been involved. “It’s just good common business sense,” says Grulich.
The Rules: “Donated money or items may be contributed to a party’s campaign if first approved by the Election Committee.” This seems discriminatory since the Committee both allows and prevents anybody or any department’s assistance. The rule is vague at best.
3. Neglected Complaints
The Timing: – Perhaps the biggest controversy (physically and chiefly) was Engaged’s giant poster. Told that they’d violated campaign rules by putting it up after 5 p.m. on Saturday, Niazi promised to take it down as soon as he could assemble the manpower. When he was unable to comply in time, Engaged was penalized with a two-and-a-half-hour suspension from campaigning.
Additionally, Engaged found UVoice fliers on their unmanned tables. But UVoice also had their materials tampered with and had many posters that went missing.
According to Merrill, the custodian in charge of the Student Center on Saturdays, there were people hanging posters after 5 p.m. He couldn’t say for sure but admitted seeing enough volunteers to suggest that neither team had left the building yet.
Because of this and the kiosks, Engaged sought redress from the Committee. Niazi briefly lost his temper with Joseph Watkins.
THE RULES: The only place the 5 p.m. “rule” is officially articulated is on the schedule, where it reads “From 8 a.m.-5 p.m.: Begin Hanging Campaign Publicity.” Not only is this not listed under the “Campaign Rules,” but it also, technically, doesn’t prohibit a team from starting at 4:59 p.m. Neither does it imply that those hours are the only times allowed to place publicity.
A Repeating Cycle
Steve Anderson is currently the Student Advocate for the Utah Student Association.
Last year, he ran for student body president. Anderson told me that there had been concerns with public spaces and complaints as well. He recalled that resources were not a problem; in fact, both teams had worked in the Education and Gunther Trades buildings. However, he recalled that his team had filed a grievance against Watkins for hanging posters after 5 p.m. (When Watkins didn’t comply in time, there was a suspension to his campaign).
Some Ideas For the Big Guys
– Teams shouldn’t be permitted to do with campus space what departments and clubs themselves are not; get more billboards or else crack down on their current use. They’ve become, for the most part, giant hallway white noise.
– The 5 p.m. rule must no longer be “what they did last year.” Either leave it as a mere scheduling guideline and treat it thusly or incorporate it into the actual rules section, specifically defined.
– Departmental involvement must either be encouraged or dissuaded altogether. Middle ground is nice, but it might – and has – lead to serious conflict.
– ALL grievances must be recorded and addressed, not just a select few.
– Students ought to have a say on how the Election Committee is kept in check.
– The rules should be made publicly available, more than just at the tables. It’s concerning when not even the student press can obtain them from the student body president.
As Kingman says, student elections reflect practical democracy outside UVU in the “real” world. It’s bigger than in high school; Trevor Tooke has the power to affect your major and your wallet as president. The rules can’t be vague enough to put this power in the lazy hands of mere favoritism and redundant tradition.
Tooke will, no doubt, be a great president. Both teams made mistakes. The real challenge is addressing the current defects in the system to prevent future mistakes in the next election, and those to come after that.