Editorial: Student elections require ethics overhaul

Ven Gopal and Lysette Johnson debate over who would be the best VP in the North Lobby of the Union on on Feb. 23, 2017. (Amar Batra/The Daily Campus)

As has become standard in Storrs, this past week’s student elections were ripe with controversy. Although the UConn community has come to expect political theater during election season, this year has uncovered a troubling lack of ethics standards in student trustee elections—perhaps the most consequential of all elections held during the Spring semester. The Student Trustee Election Committee (STEC) must revise rules to enforce stringent, common-sense ethical standards.

Controversy arose post-election when STEC disqualified the candidate with the most votes for student trustee—43 percent overall—Christine Savino. STEC disqualified Savino based upon a March 2 email sent to her mailing list, promising entrance into a gift-card raffle in exchange for “a screenshot of your vote verification.” The disqualification came as a result of STEC believing Savino did not disclose the gift-card purchase on official forms. The candidate has appealed the decision, arguing she “ended up not buying the gift card and not going through with it, so (she) could not put it down as an expense.”

STEC Chairperson Christine M. Wilson confirmed to the Daily Campus that a raffle in exchange for vote verification would not violate current rules if properly reported to STEC beforehand. The current controversy aside, allowing candidates to urge students to vote through the use of prizes, raffles or other benefits is extremely unethical. STEC should immediately adopt stricter ethics rules to eliminate the practice.

Elections for student trustee must be free of these needless and avoidable controversies moving forward. The student trustee can be one of the most effectual positions for direct advocacy of student concerns. Turning these elections into a mess of ambiguous guidelines and weak ethical rules only serves to degrade the position and the sincerity with which students consider candidates.

The broad STEC guidelines for prospective student trustees must also be updated to include more stringent and blunt explanations of ethical rules. Candidates for student trustee craft slogans, engage in stump speeches and canvass Storrs in search of votes, reflecting tactics inspired by local, state and federal politicians. Ethical guidelines for these elections should reflect this level of commitment and sincerity.

Even though this controversy did not include benefits in exchange for a specific vote, the promise of a gift card in exchange for a vote could influence student decisions. Revising STEC voting guidelines to eliminate this oversight and other ethical gray areas would go a long way toward restoring faith in student elections and in the potential of the student trustee position.