Student Senate members voted to explain their existing power last week after contention over campaign handouts brought candidates to question election rules.
“I don’t even think we needed to have a vote, but it was to be united as a Senate to understand the new elections because last year we had a lot of problems,” said Student Senate vice president Bryce Kirk.
The decision was made several hours after the executive board met with Alfredo Balarin, assistant director of student life, and debated the use of campaign handouts and election rules. With the dispute left unresolved, the officers proposed to clarify the election committee’s role in settling conflicts under the Student Senate bylaws.
An email was sent to candidates about the election rules this Monday. Student Senate president Everett McNair favored the motion in an effort to prevent slanderous materials from being purchased before reaching the committee.
“Last year, for example, we weren’t sure what the rules were because they had not been talked about at all, and this year, we just want to clarify ahead of time so all of the candidates have a fair, just chance to succeed in the election,” said McNair.
During the last senior election, Student Activities asked the LEAD Party to stop handing out brownies in the Campus Center. Although the brownies were eventually removed from their campaign site, the campaign continued handing out other materials such as sunglasses at Springfest.
Currently, using campaign handouts such as food does violate the bylaws as the materials can be purchased without going through the election committee or Student Activities.
This year, during an Apr. 1 Student Activities meeting with the candidates, advisors urged contenders against using handouts and other materials, except flyers.
A source who requested to remain anonymous claimed that Student Activities was pushing to enforce a precedent against using handouts without consent of the election committee under the bylaws.
They also claimed that the Apr. 4 motion was partially made to reaffirm the Senate’s power over the election process.
Student Activities denied the claims and stated that advisors suggested moving away from using campaign materials, but did not plan for their recommendation to circumvent the election committee under the bylaws.
With two independent candidates and a five-person party running in the upcoming election, advisors considered handouts to be unfair to contenders running alone with limited resources. The Surprise Party fought against the action, believing it to be unnecessary.
Stephen Pelletier, Surprise Party vice presidential and trustee candidate, argued that eliminating campaign materials as a precedent or bylaw would bring less students to approach candidates and learn about their platform.
“It [would be] basically just attracting people to come to our table and talk to us, so it’s not about what brings them there,” said Pelletier. “It’s really about our message and what we have to say about why we’re running and who we are running as our own individual people and a party.”
While the Surprise Party has argued against restricting handouts, independent secretary and trustee candidate Manik Elahi believes setting a precedent would help the election. Having already experienced the election last year, he believes handouts bribe students for party votes rather than allowing candidates to earn votes based on their platform.
“Actually, this would enhance competition because people would be more inclined to talk to people rather than be like ‘oh, here’s my flyer, here’s my brownie, vote for me,’” he said.
As a result of the conflict, the election committee is looking to revise the election bylaws and possibly vote to amend new changes on campaign material rules. The committee, led by Student Senate secretary Brody O’Connor, has until June 1 to vote on amending the bylaws.
Louis Coplin, director of student life, suggested the committee consider adding measures which would make the use of campaign materials more inclusive and or entirely eliminated.
“What we are trying to encourage is for it to be plain and civil, and that’s very important in this day and age. With the national campaign where there’s so much nastiness [and] instability … even we look sometimes for our national leaders to set the right example,” Coplin said.