If you’re reading this article, then you’ve hopefully read the letter from former Student Body President Richard Portwood. He suggests that we create a fully independent Elections Committee, in order to help restore the student’s confidence in UVUSA. I agree with Portwood’s suggestion.
I agree with Portwood because of what the Elections Committee does. They interpret the campaigning rules. They administer penalties to candidates and teams who violate said rules. I agree with Portwood because the students who are currently on the Elections Committee have worked alongside some of our incumbent candidates this year. They’ve formed relationships, even friendships. Suddenly, it’s election time and they’ve got to enforce rules and punishments. Performing those duties among one’s friends and colleagues can be difficult.
Let me clarify: It’s not impossible to remain objective in these situations. But it is very, very difficult. The current make-up of the Elections Committee represents a possible conflict of interest, one that we should work to eliminate.
I spoke with Sam Hadlock, who is UVUSA’s current Executive Vice President and sits on the Elections Committee. Last year, his team, Innovate, ran in an uncontested election. However, they still dealt with grievances, and still had to answer to the Elections Committee. “Sometimes that can be hurtful,” Hadlock said. “You go ‘Why are these people who I’ve been working with for a whole year punishing me?’ But, it’s understandable. We have to follow certain rules.”
Hadlock said it was harder for him to penalize candidates he didn’t know so well, versus those with whom he’s worked. “We’re a little quicker on the draw with [incumbent candidates].”
However, Hadlock acknowledged the pitfalls with the current make-up of the Elections Committee. “Anytime you know someone, there’s always a risk for that conflict of interest. I would definitely be in support of creating something independent of student government.”
Joe Jurisic is the current Elections Committee Chair and the Vice President of Student Life and Activities. He assured me that the Elections Committee has responded fairly and equally to all grievances, be they against incumbent teams or outsiders. “There are people who are in this office who are running. Obviously, I see them every day. But we don’t talk elections at all.”
But Jurisic, like Hadlock, doesn’t see anything against forming an independent Elections Committee.
Beka Grulich, is an advisor on the Elections Committee and the Director of Student Life. I asked her if she was concerned that a conflict of interest may exist on the Elections Committee.
“Typically, from what I’ve seen over the years – I’m not saying ‘current’, this is historically – they feel like their peers should know what the rules are and so they’re harder [on them].”
Grulich understands, however, that the perception from many students is the opposite.
“I do feel that straightening out perceptions is a valid thing to do. From a personal standpoint, there’s a lot of gray area as far as whose job that is. UVUSA is run by the student leaders. I can guide, recommend, suggest. Other than that, this is a student-run organization.”
Despite her limited influence over UVUSA’s activities, Grulich plans to discuss elections reform with this year’s newly-elected student officers.
“We are looking at reforming things.”
Assistant Dean of Students Phil Clegg, who has sat on past Elections Committees, feels that there would be some obstacles.
“You have training, you have recruitment and you have commitment issues,” Clegg said. “Asking John Q. Student, who has a job, who has classes…what is the incentive for someone to actually do that?”
Clegg wonders if an independent Elections Committee would eradicate potential conflicts of interest during future campaigns.
“I’m not opposed to trying necessarily,” Clegg said. “I’m not sure that it would make the process any fairer.”
Clegg has a point. Yes, there will always be biases. Wherever there are people there will be the potential for shady deals and works done under cover of darkness. Forming an Elections Committee which is completely independent of UVUSA will not completely eradicate the potential for unfair dealings.
But, it’s like vermin. If you live in an old house, you’re probably going to have rats. You’re never going to get rid of all of them. They’re good at getting into tight little nooks and crannies and they breed like crazy. You’re likely to never have a 100 percent rodent-free abode. But does that mean we just leave food out? Does that mean we don’t set traps? Do we give up, because we’ll never completely solve the problem? Or do we do everything in our power to make sure we have as small an infestation as humanly possible?
I am inclined to believe the people on the Elections Committee when they say they have acted ethically with grievances. I’m inclined to believe them when they say they have treated each team running with fairness and good judgment. In my interviews with Joe Jurisic, Sam Hadlock, Beka Grulich and Phil Clegg, no one has given me any reason to disbelieve them.
However, like an itch that I cannot reach to scratch, there is still a lingering doubt in my mind.
That’s not the fault of anyone on the Elections Committee. They have a policy in place that prohibits them from talking specifically about any team’s infractions or penalties. The teams themselves can choose to discuss their grievances and penalties with anyone they wish. But for those teams who decline to comment, I’m left in the dark. I therefore cannot say for certain whether or not justice has been meted out. And due to the current make-up of the Elections Committee, there is a potential cause for concern.
For now, this problem is unsolvable. But, we can avoid pitfalls and lingering doubts like these in the future, by creating an independent Elections Committee. This is to ensure, as best we can, that the electoral playing field is indeed level. This is to calm the concerns of our student body. This is to preserve the good names of everyone involved in UVUSA. This is to protect them from plausible but perhaps untrue speculation. Again, we do not entertain the notion of running a flawless election. But we take steps necessary to eradicate those flaws which can be avoided. We strive to be better. If you are doubtful as to the fairness of these elections, get involved. Go to the UVUSA offices. Help them form an independent Elections Committee. It’s important.
UVUSA: The perceptions about your activities may in fact be unfounded and unfair. So, help assuage the fears of the students. Make an independent Elections Committee a top priority. Work to get the students involved.
Go you Wolverines.
By John-Ross Boyce