The Student Government Association (SGA) has commissioned a new Elections Reform Task Force to revamp the elections code to place all University elections under the jurisdiction of a single set of rules.
Each of Emory’s undergraduate and graduate schools has a divisional council that oversees its respective affairs. The task force is made up of members from each council.
The task force will disband before the next University-wide elections in the spring, according to SGA President and College senior Raj Patel.
College senior Matthew Pesce will serve as the task force’s chair, having also served as the chair of the Elections Board. The task force will have its first meeting Wednesday.
The current bylaws have different procedures and election boards for all divisions, according to SGA Vice President of Communications and College sophomore Jon Darby.
The goal of the new task force is to unite all elections under one code, Darby said.
According to the executive order written by Patel that explains the function of the force, almost every SGA election in the past decade has yielded confusion about which election code has jurisdiction over the race.
BBA Council President and Goizueta Business School senior Patrick McBride, a member of the task force, said that its formation was likely a response to the most recent SGA election, in which the decision of the winner was appealed on the basis of an election code violation.
However, he also said he thought a revision to the code was inevitable this year.
“[Patel], [CC president and College senior Jerry Lau] and I have a very good working relationship,” he said. “This year is just the year it’s ripe to happen, and I think we have the competencies with everyone involved to make some common sense reform to this area.”
Patel himself was one of the parties involved in the most recent SGA election controversy. Cheating allegations were brought forth by then SGA Chief of Staff, College junior and candidate for the position Matthew Willis against Patel, after which the Elections Board reviewed the case and upheld Patel’s election.
Similarly, in the Resident Hall Association (RHA) presidential race last year, the final decision was appealed three times. The first time, no candidates received the majority and a re-vote determined College junior Akshay Goswami as the winner. His opponent, College junior Jessica Simon, accused him of cheating, leading to his disqualification. This was also appealed and the subsequent re-vote named Simon the winner.
Then, Goswami also accused Simon of cheating, after which both candidates were disqualified. Finally, Simon appealed this decision and was named RHA president.
The cheating allegations in both the SGA and RHA races pertained to using Facebook to campaign and email violations of existing campaign rules. The existing bylaws have different procedures and election boards for all divisions, according to Darby.
For example, freshmen running for College Council (CC) are subject to different campaign rules than those running for SGA positions because the councils currently operate under different election codes, Darby said.
McBride said some of the existing regulations on campaigns are “stupid, frankly.”
“I think our restrictions that we currently have in place are arbitrary,” he said. “I don’t really see in the realm of student government elections why it makes sense that we say, ‘oh, you can’t post on Facebook during the day of the election.'”
The reason the separate codes exist is because SGA recognizes the individual rights of all divisions to self-govern, according to Darby.
“I can’t explain why this problem hasn’t been solved already. I can’t explain why no one’s tried to deal with it yet, but I think it says a lot about this year’s exec board and this year’s legislature that we’ve identified this as a problem that students really care about, and we’re trying to solve it as quickly as possible,” Darby said.
The executive order specifies a number of rules that the force will determine, including what type of campaigning is prohibited before campaign week and whether campaigning is allowed on election day.
McBride said he wants the wording of the updated code to apply to all elections regardless of popular media being used by students.
In a past election, a student argued that rules of conduct on Microsoft Office 365 were different because the election code only specified LearnLink, McBride said. McBride said he wants to avoid the confusion.
The force may also recommend a revision for the online voting system that University Technology Services (UTS) provides. Last year, many students received ballots that corresponded with the number of credit hours they have earned, rather than their expected graduation date, meaning they may not have recognized the names on the ballot, Darby said.
McBride said he does not believe the force will have an impact on the UTS-provided voting system because that is a matter of concern for the Office of the Registrar, whose databases would be difficult to change.
Darby said he feels that if the force succeeds in fixing the ballot problem, it will increase voter turnout because students will not have to take the extra step of emailing UTS to get the problem fixed on an individual basis.
The proceedings and meetings of the force will be open to the public, according to the executive order. The expected completion date of the updated code is Nov. 18. McBride said he doesn’t think the process should be too complicated.
“It’s not something that should have to take weeks on end,” he said. “If we’re really loose or really strict with what we’re putting out – I think either is fine as long as we’re clear cut about what is acceptable and what is not acceptable.”
Patel said this Wednesday’s meeting will focus on changes to the online voting ballot.
– By Rupsha Basu