Results for the recent Undergraduate Student Government (USG) elections were held from students for over two weeks due to an ongoing case concerning violations filed by president-elect Irma Valverde against her opponent Andrew Stern.
While keeping results under wraps for so long after polls closed was unprecedented, the judiciary’s involvement in the USG presidential race was not. A recent Daily Campus article shows USG’s judiciary made rulings based on violations in every presidential election since 2011, except in 2015 when Rachel Conboy ran unopposed.
Stern dropped charges against Valverde’s campaign before the hearing began, stating that he filed them to make a point about candidates accusing one another of violations in order to influence the election.
“This mentality is damning to our elections process and it makes good people who are just trying to make a difference in their community, such as Irma and Lysette [Johnson, Valverde’s vice president], feel like they have to file baseless changes in order to win,” Stern said prior to the hearing.
Valverde said she didn’t want to file charges, but felt that violation after violation piled up and unfairly influenced the way students voted.
In the 2016 presidential election, candidate Stephanie Sponzo was banned from campaigning for the first two days of voting after a speaker at a USG-sponsored event endorsed her, which is an action strictly against USG election policy.
“He took it upon himself at the beginning of his lecture to endorse me as a candidate, which is obviously a huge problem because USG paid for him to speak,” Sponzo said. “I was obviously horrified that it happened.”
Her opponents at the time, current USG president Dan Byrd, Valverde, who was running as Byrd’s vice president, and candidate Eliza Conrad and her pick for vice president Joy Sgobbo, filed a case with the judiciary.
Sponzo said the judiciary estimated that around 200 people attended the event.
“You can do the math and know the amount of people that vote during 66 percent of the time that voting is open is far greater than 200 votes, so it really was a disproportionate penalty,” Sponzo said.
Byrd said he doesn’t believe Sponzo intentionally broke a rule, but a rule was broken regardless.
“I think [Sponzo] made a mistake… But intent is different than outcome, so I think people should be held accountable for the outcome of their action, not the intent of their action,” Byrd said.
Byrd acknowledged the judiciary’s active role in presidential campaigns, but said fault shouldn’t be found with candidates who file violations.
“The way it’s perceived… shifts the blame to the person who filed the case rather than the person who actually violated the rule,” Byrd said.
Byrd said candidates are not conscious enough of election policies, causing the filing of violations.
“I have run in four elections. I’ve never once broken a rule. I’ve never once had a case filed against me,” Byrd said. “It’s not hard to avoid breaking the rules. There’s not that many rules.”
Sponzo said she believes the culture within USG is part of the reason for the judiciary’s involvement.
“[Candidates] should be encouraged to file violations if they feel that there’s a legitimate problem,” Sponzo said. “I think there’s a fine line between finding that place where students are filing when it’s legitimate and there’s a true unlevel playing field and when it’s petty.”
Sponzo said, in the future, she hopes the way candidates run their campaigns will change from what it’s been the past few years.
“Let’s have a year where we can have no violations filed… You will win if you speak to the most people and make it clear to students that you truly care about them and you truly want to make their experience at UConn better,” Sponzo said. “That’s who should win, not who’s able to follow the other person’s campaign most closely and find little technicalities to trip them up on.”
Byrd, however, said the rules serve a purpose and are not to blame for judiciary’s role in presidential elections.
“I think judiciary has been involved in a lot of elections, but it’s because people violate the rules,” Byrd said. “I long for the day where a rule isn’t broken.”
Schae Beaudoin is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.