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More government transparency

Observer Editorial Staff | Friday, February 8, 2013

In the days leading up to Wednesday’s student government election, students became acquainted with the diverse platforms of each of the six tickets running for student body president and vice president. Each platform contained promises and pledges, and their ideas ranged from town hall forums to balloting students on their priorities, working more closely with the South Bend mayor to an intercollegiate social justice forum, making sure the proposed gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and questioning (GLBTQ) student organization comes to fruition to more concerts in the JACC. And yet these different platforms all included a uniting thread – more transparency in student government.
Juniors Alex Coccia and Nancy Joyce proposed regular “State of Student Government” reports. Juniors Dominic Romeo and Philip Hootsmans pledged to keep an accessible list for all students of their checkpoints in major projects and to update it throughout their administration. Sophomores Billy Christy and Pat Roemer would post monthly YouTube videos to update the student body on their work. Junior Michael Masi and sophomore Tim Scanlan would build the student government presence on Facebook and Twitter. Freshmen Austin O’Brien and Nick Boggess wanted to release Student Senate meeting minutes every week. Even freshmen Kevin Salat and Paul Mascarenhas, the traditional Zahm House ticket, pledged to use social media in their administration, even if they pledged to do so in order to help students avoid friends during their most stressful or insufferable moments (i.e. before an organic chemistry exam).
We can be guaranteed that whatever ticket wins the election will take steps toward a more accessible, more transparent student government. The names of the victorious candidates or of the tickets to compete in a runoff election, however, have been withheld from students twice now in the wake of allegations of campaign misconduct.
Information on what those allegations are, what tickets have been challenged and the possible response from the Judicial Council has also been withheld from students. We’re waiting with more questions than answers, and the need for more transparency is especially apparent as we continue to wonder the names of the students who will lead student government next year.
Honestly, The Observer staff has editorialized about this more than once, and that in itself should be telling. In 2009, the Editorial Board requested the Judicial Council publicize the reasons it found a class council ticket guilty of two charges of campaign misconduct, which meant they could not spend any additional money on their campaign during the runoff election.
“This policy should change and student government should amend the Constitution to allow the Judicial Council to disclose election violations,” the 2008-2009 Board members wrote.
In 2011, the Board called for a more transparent election process when a campaign “ethics clause” violation delayed the results of the student body elections, just as this year’s allegations have caused the Council to withhold results again. The ticket found guilty of an election violation was required to submit an apology email to the Council before election results could be published. The Observer editorial proposed a number of alternate solutions, including a repeat election or eliminating the offending ticket.
“Regardless of the challenges and imperfections of these alternatives, each proposal would have made at least some impact on the results of Monday’s election – something the Election Committee’s final decision completely and utterly failed to do,” the editorial stated.
This year, we know even less about these vague allegations. When the Council delayed results Wednesday evening, vice president of elections Katie Hennessy explained she reviewed two allegations against two tickets and found them considerable enough to be brought before the Election Committee. The Committee dismissed the allegations, yet another accusation was made before the window for complaints closed at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday. Hennessy said the names of the tickets in question would not be released so as not to sway any votes in a potential runoff election.
We understand the challenges faced by the Judicial Council are difficult ones, and we applaud the way the Council challenges student government leaders to meet the standards of their Constitution. We also appreciate how seriously the Council takes its responsibility to run fair elections. But without informing students about these allegations, the Judicial Council continues to close the doors to the second floor offices in LaFortune and student government as a whole.
When students know what these allegations were, we can contribute to the debate about the best response to broken rules. We can be a part of a larger conversation about the Constitution of the Student Government. We can learn more about the candidates who campaign with their best selves and make informed decisions about who we want in office.
The candidates vying for the role of student body president and vice president are all ready to make their administrations more transparent and more open. It’s time the Judicial Council worked for that same goal.