The University of Connecticut Undergraduate Student Government is altering its election policies and revamping its public relations to help limit violations in this spring’s election, according to USG officials.
This call for revision is due to the adversity faced in past elections, said Chief Justice Andrew Stern.
Stern, eighth-semester political science major, credits the majority of prior judicial intervention to the rules surrounding “campusing”—the way candidates campaign on campus grounds. He said the current rules are complex and extensive because of the different entities at UConn that USG must adhere to.
“We try to simplify as much as possible but between ResLife and building policies, there are lots of rules,” Stern said. “This tends to be the largest factor in any case. I’d say three quarters of case violations are campusing. Every building on campus has its own campusing policy and student government must uphold all policies and enforce them.”
Stern said that even with stringent campusing regulations, USG works to limit potential ambiguity.
“Every year we sit down with administration and try to simplify it, but unfortunately we are only in control of our own rules, in the sense we can’t control rules of ResLife,” Stern said. “The student government role in that is to just abide those rules.”
Stern said USG has attempted to amend copious campaign violations by implementing a “three strike system.”
Under this non binding policy, when the Election Oversight Committee (EOC) is confronted with a campusing violation, the committee notifies the candidate if the violation counts as a strike. Three strikes would then lead to judicial review, Stern said.
“This was created to compensate for the convoluted nature of the campusing policy,” Stern said. “Unfortunately, there has been a frequency of trials over the last few years.”
Another contributor to judicial intervention is the lack of clarity in election packets, the form potential candidates fill out that list policy information, said Election Oversights Chair George Wang.
Wang, eighth-semester political science major, said the vagueness of past policies were a major contributor to election violations. Wang played a role in altering last fall’s election packet which contained an evasive policy under Section Two: Campaign Policy.
The policy stated, “All campaign conduct shall preserve the spirit and integrity of the Undergraduate Student Government.”
Wang said the clause was a catalyst for many of the violations brought forward to judiciary.
“That was a very nebulous rule that didn’t really have any definition and was used in many previous cases,” Wang said.
Wang said that he hopes the revision will result in less judicial influence in upcoming elections because he feels it causes USG and judiciary members to decide the election, not the actual voters themselves.
“I personally have been opposed to a lot of judiciary actions in elections. I think it’s important for [the judiciary] to be hands off as possible,” Wang said. “However, if there are rules and violations of rules those violations should and will be dealt with.”
Public relations director Caio Goncalves said he will also be playing a role in preventing election violations. Goncalves, eighth-semester political science and journalism major, said USG is working with the Student Activity Office to make a tutorial video to guide students through the election packet.
“The material in there is pretty dense. For people who are doing this for the first time, we want to make it easy as possible with no violations,” Goncalves said.
Since 2011 spring elections, with the exemption of 2015 when the presidential candidate ran unopposed, the judiciary has been involved in USG elections.
In 2011, presidential candidate Vijay Sekhara reported campaign policy violations against opponent Sam Tracy for allegedly campaigning within 100 feet from USG sponsored events, changing homepage computers in polling places and dispersing flyers without consent.
In 2012, seven cases were reviewed by the judiciary, all involving presidential campaign policy violations.
In 2013, presidential candidate Shiv Gandhi was disqualified after Gandhi was charged for violation of aggressive campaigning by opponent Edward Courchaine.
In 2014, presidential candidate Carlyle Bethel was disqualified by the judiciary for inadequate attendance of senate meetings.
In 2016, the judiciary announced that presidential candidate Stephanie Sponzo received an illicit campaign endorsement from guest speaker Michael Kimmel’s “Man Up,” a USG-funded lecture and was subsequently banned from campaigning during the first two days of the election.
In 2017, current USG president Irma Valverde brought violations forward against opponent Andrew Stern for slander, bribery and campaigning against students who were voting. Stern’s case was found guilty by the judiciary for only the charge of slander.
While the prior violations are heard and decided by the judiciary, Wang said breaking this trend starts with the candidates and their own decisions.
“My hope is all candidates adhere to the rules and review to them before they start campaigning so there is no need for the judiciary to step it,” Wang said. “I can’t really say what will occur. The candidates will make their own decisions and it is my hope that any who participates in the elections looks at those rules and follows them as best as they can.”
With these alterations to election preparation put in place, Stern hopes the efforts of USG will result in a more responsive spring election.
“There is more gravity to your vote and who might be put in office than you might realize,” Stern said. “And I know students are busy but it is something worth looking into. I think a lot of time students don’t realize the impact these people have.”
Voting for the spring election will be open Tuesday, Feb. 27 and will be closed Thursday, March 1.
Lillian Whittaker is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.