By Giacomo Bologna, Daily Staff Reporter
Published December 9, 2012
After a March election cycle now infamous for a hearing that lasted until 7 a.m. that determined the election, the Central Student Government held its November elections under an entirely new election code. While the problems CSG faced eight months ago were avoided during last month’s election, missed deadlines, a shortage of candidates and erroneous ballots still plagued the contest.
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Some of the problems can be attributed to the new election code, which was only passed 28 days before the start of the election. By then, CSG was already in violation of the legislation the assembly had just passed that required the election director to be approved 42 days before an election and the applications for candidates to be made available 30 days before an election.
These missed deadlines caused more missed deadlines when candidacy applications were accepted as late as a few days before the election despite the new election code that required the applications to be submitted 16 days before the election.
While some organizers of the election cited a lack of time as one of the problems that hindered CSG’s November election, others like LSA senior Sean Walser, a three-year veteran of student government who now serves as the vice president of the Student Association of Michigan, said he found the handling of the election “embarrassing.”
“We've had some rough elections in the past,” Walser said. “But this is by far the worst I've ever seen and I think it's really bad for student government to not really take time to have meaningful elections.”
In total, only eight students registered to run for the 18 available seats, and Walser said these numbers were both an anomaly and bad for student government.
“In the past, even in the smaller November elections, we've had way more candidates than there are seats,” he said, attributing the lack of candidates to poor advertisement of the election.
Walser argued that voter turnout for the CSG elections could be attributed to other student governments on campus rather than to CSG itself.
“A lot of the turnout was the result of the work of the LSA Student Government and other student governments across campus,” Walser said. “It was really embarrassing to me to have CSG do virtually nothing to advertise the election – that's just a terrible precedent going into the March election.”
Walser said he also tried to find an application a few days before the election and couldn’t.
“I imagine for students not well versed with CSG, (getting registered) would have been virtually impossible unless they were involved with a party,” he said.
In addition to problems created by a lack of time, issues concerning the Rackham and LSA-SG representative ballots were “unexplainable,” Walser said.
The Rackham ballot only allowed voters to vote for one person, despite eight seats being up for grabs. That problem eventually led organizers to extend the election 48 hours and release an entirely new ballot for Rackham students.
The CSG representative ballot allowed voters to choose three candidates when only two seats were open. In the end, the third place finisher lost 531 to 436 total votes and 1,321 to 1,196 weighted votes, which are calculated based on how students ranked a candidate.
“I think it’s a terrible precedent because this election was clearly not really fair and democratic,” Walser said.
Walser said staff from the University’s Information and Technology Services assured student government officials that technological problems with the ballot didn’t affect the results, but argued that the ballot still had errors.
“ITS claiming that (problems with the LSA ballot) didn't affect the election results to me is not sufficient because there was clearly a mistake on the ballot,” Walser said.
Walser said ensuring a proper election needs to a be a higher priority for CSG president Manish Parikh and CSG vice president Omar Hashwi.
“These ideas of longer library hours, a 24-hour cafe are great, but the administration also has to focus on the basics and getting the fundamentals down,” Walser said. “I think they need to reflect on their priorities and make sure that they're getting the fundamentals down as well as the external stuff they're working on.”
Walsler was chair of MForward when it supported candidates in the election in which Parikh and Hashwi were elected.
Walser added that it is important that CSG start looking for a director and election commission position for the upcoming March election immediately to avoid similar problems in the spring.
Law student Jeremy Garson, CSG’s November election director, acknowledged the problems with the elections, but said they lived up to the necessary benchmarks, especially if the time constraints placed on the election are taken into consideration.
“The election went about as well as it could under the circumstances,” Garson said. “The important thing with any election … is you need to make sure everyone who has the right to vote is able to vote, everyone who wishes to run can run and when the votes are counted, there is no fraud.”
Garson also disagreed with Walser’s point, affirming his belief that the LSA elections were an accurate reflection of the wishes of LSA students.
“From talking to ITS, from talking with other people that have more experience, I’m confident that we were able to get the wishes of the electorate to be properly represented,” he said.
Garson explained that his own health caused additional challenges into an already tumultuous election.
“I tip my hat to my team,” Garson said. “I was sick on the night of the election; I had to go to the hospital next day.”
Garson credited CSG student general counsel Lukas Garske, an LSA senior, in particular for the election’s success.
“Everything that went right, went right because of (Garske),” he said.
With the March election now ahead, Garson said the lesson learned from this election is that time is invaluable.
“Going into the future, it’s just a matter of getting all the pieces into place so that we can do advertising in a more systematic way rather than having to scramble against the firm clock,” Garson said.
Garske echoed Garson when he wrote in an e-mail that several factors affected CSG’s ability to hold a timely and efficient election. Because the all-campus constitution maintains that the elections must be held in November, the election dates chosen were placed as late in November as possible in order to facilitate the difficult time constraints CSG faced, Garske wrote.
“The presence of the Thanksgiving break added another element of complication to this,” he wrote. ”Overall this meant that when the Election Code passed we had 28 days to prepare for the elections if you include holiday time and weekends; if you remove holidays and weekends we were left with 15 days. “
Despite these missed deadlines, Garske said the only person who could file a complaint alleging injury from the election would be a candidate and even then the statute of limitations on filing that complaint has already passed.
Garske also highlighted the new election code, saying that while it added stress to this election, it would ease tension in upcoming elections.
“The creation of a new, comprehensive Election Code is the most important development here as it will ensure elections run smoothly in the future,” Garske wrote. “We could have rushed to put an Election Code in place as quickly as possible, but believed it was more important that a strong framework be built upon which future elections could rely consistently.”
Rackham Student Government President Michael Benson said he too had problems with CSG’s handling of the election. Benson said he called the CSG front office several times throughout September and October to find out when CSG had scheduled its elections so that RSG could schedule its elections to coincide with CSG’s.
“Given how not put together CSG was this time around with their elections I’m not sure if we’re going to overlap with them truthfully,” Benson said. “If they can’t hold one of their smaller elections to the quality and standard that they have in the past … I’m not sure if I feel comfortable leaving those details to them.”
Correction appended: A previous version of this article misstated Walser's affiliation with MForward. It also misidentified the results of the CSG representatives election.