USG’s glaring election problem, and a possible fix

The Undergraduate student government meets in the SU ballroom for its weekly meeting on March 8, 2017. Items discussed included a motion to ask the Foundation to not invest in fossil fuels and a motion to add a temporary justice to fill in for Chief Justice Andrew Stern during hearings on the presidential race. Stern cannot serve on such hearings because he is involved in the proceedings. (Amar Batra/ The Daily Campus)

The University of Connecticut’s Undergraduate Student Government is in the worst election seasons of the decade.

When focused on student issues rather than internal machinations, USG does just fine. But in recent years, election season has been ripe with scandals and last-minute judiciary hearings, with the true winners and losers often obscured because of allegations, disqualifications and apparently, this year, spring vacation.

Due to spring break, the USG judiciary will likely not be making a decision on presidential candidate Andrew Stern’s appeal to a previous ruling stipulating that he lose 29 votes because of a violation until at least 29 days after the election, according to The Daily Campus.

Results typically come in the night the polls close, or at least the day after. Now we’re learning that it won’t be just four or five days before the results are released, but likely 20. UConn Student Activities shares some of the blame for withholding that information. Even when there were ongoing cases in the past – like Mark Sargent v. Carlyle Bethel in 2014  –numbers came in, as expected, the night the polls closed. By not releasing preliminary results, both students and candidates are being left in the dark, making it unclear as to whether the loss of 29 votes will even affect the election.

This delay, according to Student Activities and USG President Dan Byrd, is being executed because it could have an effect on the judiciary’s decision. The logic to that assertion is unclear. What is clear is that this year, Andrew Stern is the judiciary’s chief justice, although that responsibility has fallen to Deputy Chief Wambui Gatheru in election situations.

Gatheru offered no comment when asked if this postponement in the announcement of vote counts is unprecedented.

Each of the past six years, and possibly even further back than that, have seen presidential candidates filing charges against each other and going to the judiciary to pass judgment. The only time this did not happen is when Rachel Conboy ran unopposed two years ago.

With the current situation, especially when considering the last few election cycles, USG has lost credibility on the issue of elections. Its judiciary and Elections Oversight Committee have failed. It is time for an independent commission of students to handle election disputes and oversight. Members of the commission should be students without ties to USG. That may take the form of an election, which would be a positive development, because the judiciary has been, in too many cases, run by former student senators.

USG needs outside oversight. No matter who is declared the victor of the Valverde v. Stern election, the winner will seem illegitimate. The secrecy with which this current election debacle is being handled has irreparably harmed student trust. This is unfortunate for both USG and their constituents; the former can no longer be trusted, and the latter can no longer trust.