Dear University Elections Commission,
Please do your job.
With another year of Central Student Government elections behind us and another set of representatives and executives set to be sworn in soon, many students on campus want to let the memory of CSG elections fade to the past. This election cycle, like many before, has brought a number of candidates, parties and campaign promises to the Diag. However, unlike in prior years, this campaign season has brought an onslaught of extreme campaigning and more than $4,500 in campaign spending between the two major parties.
I have no problem with campaigning for CSG. Chalking the Diag in favor of a given party is as old of a tradition as any. However, I begin to have problems when an unending assault on my privacy occurs. While much of this is unavoidable, as candidates are allowed to enter residence halls and go door to door, the University Election Code specifically prevents “Irresponsible Use of Email Privileges.” Article 6 of the CSG Compiled Code specifically prohibits candidates from “harvesting student email addresses for campaign purposes,” assigning a 3-percent vote reduction per recipient, per e-mail. With this in mind, I became concerned when I started receiving e-mails from candidates I had no relationship with.
On March 23, I filed a complaint with the University Election Commission against LSA Representative candidates Craig Motola and Seth Schostak, who had e-mailed my name as part of a potentially harvested listserv advertising their campaign. A hearing was held, and despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, both Motola and Schostak were found not guilty of an election code violation, a violation which would have most certainly disqualified both of them from the election.
In response to this injustice, I urge the UEC to look to their own prior decisions. In the 2015 case Brenner v. George, the commission found CSG candidate Stevin George guilty of a code violation and disqualified him from the election. The offense in this case occurred when George sent an e-mail to a listserv he didn’t own. What makes spamming a private listserv worse than creating a listserv out of nowhere to spam?
Even more laughable about the UEC’s decision was their standard of evidence for conviction, noting they would be “hard-pressed to think of any conceivable circumstance, perhaps short of video evidence, in which a complainant would be able to prove email harvesting.” Aside from the unbelievably high standard of evidence that comes with demanding video proof of criminal activity, the UEC’s decision is extremely contrary to their own prior findings. There was no video evidence present in the ejection of Stevin George, nor was there in the 2015 case Email Harvesting, in which the UEC established a three-pronged test to determine if harvesting had occurred.
Why have rules if there is no reason to follow them?
In the majority opinion, delivered by election commissioners Mallory Andrews and Emily Rosenthal, the commission agreed that 823 people had been e-mailed by Craig Motola, and that 455 people had been e-mailed twice by Seth Schostak. Despite eight victims coming forward, all swearing they had no affiliation with the listserv, the UEC still suggested harvesting had not occurred, suggesting it had been “a prank” or “a simple, innocent typo.”
This type of treatment from the body slated to protect the students from out-of-control campaigning is unacceptable. By letting people the commission even admitted had “probably harvested emails” off the hook, the commission opens the door for unlimited spamming of innocent students. As dissenting commissioner Dylan Bennett reported: “We will now have representatives on our student assembly who the entirety of this Commission believes have likely cheated the democratic process.”
Cheating the democratic process is not something I’m looking for in a CSG representative. With a budget of more than $450,000, I need to know that those in control are capable of being trusted. Having every commissioner of the UEC think that two LSA representatives “probably” broke a basic rule destroys that trust. Ignoring the election code isn’t something I’m looking for in CSG either, as the UEC is responsible to enforce the code on the candidates. Without having full faith that those who won the election did so honestly and can be trusted to make decisions on the student body’s behalf, the $7.19 that every Michigan student pays in CSG taxes may have been better off saved.
Though the decision in Pearlman v. Motola et. al has been made, I hope future CSG candidates are more honest regarding the election code and choose to follow the rules, even if they can get away with breaking them. I also call on the UEC to stop the harvesting of e-mails for campaigning during election season, even if it means ejecting candidates.
Kevin Sweitzer is an Editorial Board member.