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Campaign law transparency is key

| Thursday, February 13, 2014

At 9:54 a.m. Tuesday, the Judicial Council announced in an email that juniors Lauren Vidal and Matthew Devine won the runoff election for student body president and vice president, beating junior Olivia LaMagna and sophomore Rohan Andresen by 276 votes.

According to the Judicial Council’s email, 3,862 students voted, 46 percent of eligible undergraduate students. In the first election, LaMagna and Andresen earned 15 votes more than Vidal and Devine, and neither had a majority, which led to Monday’s runoff vote.

It’s impossible to say what precisely influenced one student to vote or to not vote, to support Vidal and Devine or LaMagna and Andresen. What we do know is that this election was marred by a violation of the campaigning rules set down in the candidate’s guide, based on the Constitution of the Undergraduate Student Body. And both violations occurred on Facebook.

According to a press release sent at 12:28 a.m. Monday, the Election Committee “found the Vidal-Devine ticket in the Student Body Presidential/Vice Presidential Election in violation of Section 17.2(j)(4) of the Constitution.”

The release states, “The ticket exceeded their campaign spending limit by paying for advertising on Facebook for specific posts.” The “appropriate sanction” determined by the Election Committee was for the Vidal-Devine campaign to “completely delete from Facebook the three advertised posts that caused them to exceed their campaign spending limit.”

According to a second press release, sent at 9:28 p.m. Monday to campus media, the Election Committee “found the LaMagna-Andresen ticket in the Student Body Presidential/Vice-Presidential Election in violation of Section 17.1(h) of the Constitution.”
“The ticket violated the clause by insulting the opposing ticket in a Facebook post by a supporter,” the release states. The “appropriate sanction” devised by the Committee was for the LaMagna-Andresen ticket to remove the post on Facebook.
We commend the Election Committee for acting in a timely manner to resolve both allegations, and we appreciate that both tickets gracefully complied with the sanctions.

“Ideally, all candidates would act in a way that no allegation would have to come up,” LaMagna said in a statement to The Observer. “That’s how it should be, and it shouldn’t have to come up for Judicial Council to act on an allegation. But, if there were more clarity in the Constitution, that might make their job easier.”

Vidal and Devine declined to comment.

We don’t know exactly what happened. Vice President of Elections Kathryn Peruski said in an email to The Observer that the Election Committee found a “preponderance of evidence” in both cases. Peruski said the process is “completely confidential besides the press releases that are made to campus media outlets,” in order to “protect the privacy of the accusing party and accused ticket.”

By all accounts, the Election Committee devised fair judgments based on the available laws. However, we question these laws.
We saw that candidates who violate a campaign law will not necessarily receive a significant punishment. We believe deleting the Facebook posts hardly constitutes a substantial sanction for a violation on this social media outlet, especially when the violation was not based on the content of the post — like an overextended budget.

We also learned that candidates are expected to control the way in which their supporters exercise their right to free speech on social media outlets so as not to violate a subjective standard of inappropriate content.

We believe the laws underlining campaign regulation should be reexamined. Only 46 percent of students voted in this election, suggesting widespread apathy among the other 54 percent. Current campaign laws regulate the actions of the students who otherwise might choose to actively involve themselves with the election of their leaders, but the same students don’t understand these rules. We see this as a major problem, and we hope that student government and the Judicial Council can work together to make these regulations more widely known and understood.

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