Former Undergraduate Student Government (USG) Sen. Christine Savino will be the next undergraduate representative on the University of Connecticut Board of Trustees after successfully appealing her disqualification.
As undergraduate trustee on a board of 21, Savino will have voting rights on major university decisions and consistent access to university leaders.
Going forward, Savino said she wants to advocate for increasing funding of mental health services to students, increasing parking space for students, calling on high-level administrators to stop taking raises and increasing outreach to students. Looking back, Savino was accused during her campaign of bribery and plagiarism.
Rachel Rubin, executive secretary of the board of trustees, overturned Savino’s disqualification for allegedly not reporting a gift card to raffle for incentivizing voting on her Campaign Finance Statement, according to a Thursday afternoon email sent to the three candidates and shared with The Daily Campus by both of Savino’s opponents.
USG President Daniel Byrd said on Monday (before the appeal was decided) that if Savino’s appeal succeeded, it would set a dangerous precedent for allowing candidates to bribe voters.
“Any requests for her to resign based on shady election results I expect to fall on deaf ears, but I would consider it,” Byrd said.
Savino said Thursday night that she would not consider resigning, that she received the most votes and called Byrd’s statement inappropriate and personal.
“That’s very inappropriate for our president to say,” Savino said. “It’s a personal thing. He’s very close friends with my opponent, and he worked on their campaign. I’m disappointed.”
Byrd endorsed Savino’s opponent USG Speaker George P. Wang; Byrd said the calls for Savino’s resignation were separately motivated.
The Student Trustee Election Committee (STEC) disqualified Savino on March 3 for allegedly submitting an inaccurate Campaign Finance Statement, STEC Chairperson Christine Wilson said.
“STEC reviewed several referrals of alleged campaign violations attributed to Savino's campaign,” Wilson wrote in an email Thursday night. “There were no referrals of campaign violations for the other two candidates.”
STEC received an email Savino had sent out during the voting period offering them entry into a raffle for a $50 gift card if they sent her confirmation that they had voted and one sentence about their vision for UConn.
“I am excited to help students and would also like to hear about you [sic] ideas and concerns so that we can build a more unified and efficient UConn!” Savino wrote in the March 2 email. “Therefore, if you send me a one sentence or more message about this with a screenshot of your vote verification, you will be in the drawing for a $50 gift card at the UConn Bookstore to help cover academic expenses! The winner will be announced next week!”
Savino was disqualified because she never reported the gift card on her Campaign Finance Statement. Wilson said there were no other inaccuracies for which Savino was being investigated. Wilson also said that it would not be against any of STEC’s rules for a candidate to enter confirmed voters in a raffle for a $50 gift card if the candidate did buy the gift card, report it to STEC and hold the raffle.
Savino’s successful appeal was based on the grounds that she never bought the gift card and therefore did not have any inaccuracies in her finances, Savino said in an email exchange on March 5.
“(STEC) reasonably assumed that I had bought the gift card, but they didn’t see that the gift card on my financial statement so they had to disqualify me for a falsified financial statement, but they were unaware that I didn’t go through with the actual lottery or buying of the gift card,” Savino said. “So I appealed and said there are debit card statements and the bookstore had records that I never bought the gift card.”
Savino said the raffle was to not to buy votes but to encourage voting, citing the history of low turnout in student elections (19 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot in this trustee race). Byrd called it bribery.
“No student running for any office, be it USG president or comptroller or student trustee, should be able to bribe students with the chance to win a $50 gift card,” Byrd said. “I consider that bribery.”
Savino said only two people responded to her offer and that both were friends who would have voted for her anyway. She refused to name the number of people who received the email and said the number was irrelevant. Her campaign email list at one time totaled about 1,590 people (the full list was available to everyone on several emails because the names were put in the “Send” box). Savino said the raffle email went to fewer than 500 people but would not give documented proof.
“It wasn’t a successful email,” Savino said. “I feel like most people know about it already. It’s a bit embarrassing to be honest.”
Byrd said that the email was not made acceptable by a low response.
“The fact that she sent the email out to however many people—a number that she won’t disclose—is not made okay that only two people, she says, messaged her,” Byrd said. “We don’t know if more people would have done it later.”
Savino’s opponent, Wang said he was disappointed by the executive secretary’s decision but acknowledged that Savino had not committed any actual campaign violations.
“I think (the raffle) was at the very least not the most ethical thing to do, but I suppose it wasn’t explicitly against the rules,” Wang said. “(Savino) found that out and so more power to her.”
Savino was accused earlier in her campaign of plagiarizing her platform from a candidate who dropped out of the trustee race early in the process. Savino resigned from her senate seat in USG when she heard that the plagiarism case would go to a hearing.
Savino said in a phone call on Feb. 20 that she was not guilty of plagiarism and that she resigned after learning of the hearing against her to avoid negative publicity and emotional stress. Since the plagiarism case, she updated her platform to remove the parts she had copied and pasted from the dropped trustee candidate.
Referring specifically to Byrd’s considering that he would call on her to resign, Savino said that the negative nature of student campaigns can make them unappealing to voters.
“With these type of personal attacks, there’s been a lot of negative stigma in the elections and in USG overall, and I’m concerned that that’s going to turn off a lot of students in future elections,” Savino said.
Wang said this election season has demonstrated that both the trustee race and that of USG are in need of reform. Due to an ongoing appeal by one of the campaigns, the results of the presidential, comptroller and senate races in USG will likely not be released until after spring break—at least 17 days after the election concluded.
Wilson said STEC reviews and updates campaign regulations for each annual election. The chairperson said that executive secretary Rubin’s perspective on appeals was also considered in updates.
“This year, (Rubin) recommended that, if incentives are allowed, that STEC establish guidelines for how candidates offer and follow through on these incentives,” Wilson said.
Christopher McDermott is the news editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.