In the lead-up to this year’s Central Student Government elections, many complaints of improper election practices have been exchanged between two of the parties, Your Michigan and newMICH, as well as individual candidates within the parties.
The most recent complaints made — one against LSA sophomore Olivia Furano, newMICH candidate for a seat on the University of Michigan’s CSG Police Department Oversight Committee and one against the newMICH party as a whole — were withdrawn at a hearing Wednesday night, resulting in no consequences for neither the party nor the candidate.
Throughout the past few weeks of elections, both Your Michigan and newMICH have exchanged the complaints through use of the University Elections Commission Rules of Practice and Procedure, a process that outlines how a complaint can be filed and lists possible infractions a candidate or party may commit.
In past years, multiple complaints under the UEC rules have been filed as well, often unsuccessfully— prompting questions about what impact the process overall has on the student government election process.
CSG General Counsel Jacob Pearlman, a Public Policy sophomore, said any student on campus can submit a complaint, either against a candidate or an entire party. Both candidates and individual parties can be accused of committing violations.
When a complaint is submitted, candidates are notified by e-mail and a hearing date is set. Those accused of violating the code are entitled to counsel appointed by the Central Student Judiciary, and given 24 hours to respond to a complaint and 24 hours to appeal the final decision made by the commission. Following a hearing, the UEC has 48 hours to write their opinion and make a ruling.
“The hearings are necessary because it’s due process,” Pearlman said. “You’re innocent until proven guilty, and there’s a body that should be making judgments in order to determine if you deserve a percent deduction in your vote. We need a University Elections Commission to keep campaigns fair and clean, and the body needs to decide whether or not beyond a reasonable doubt someone committed a violation of the Election Code.”
Every complaint gets a hearing unless the complaint is withdrawn. In many cases this year, such as on Wednesday night, complaints have been withdrawn due to new evidence that surfaced or a negotiation between the candidates or parties in question. Only one hearing was held this year prior to Wednesday, Pearlman said.
“It’s important that we have a set of rules that say what the candidates can and can’t do and keep an even playing field,” CSG Elections Director Benjamin Reese, a third-year Law student, said.
If a party or candidate is found guilty of committing an infraction, they are subject to receiving demerits, which can have an impact on final vote percentage. Through the complaints and motions already filed this year, both parties have received some.
“If a party gets 10 demerits, the whole party is kicked out,” Pearlman said. “That hasn’t happened in a very, very long time, but essentially if the party takes actions that affect the whole party and not just one candidate, and they get 10 demerits, they get kicked out. Anything below 10 really doesn’t matter.”
In contrast, demerits are important for individual candidates because they deduct from a candidate’s votes by a certain percentage. For parties, however, as long as they do not receive 10 demerits — resulting in removal from the election — the demerits do not have any effect.
“For individual candidates specifically, if the candidate does something wrong, like, the candidate doesn’t show up to a candidate’s meeting or the candidate does something that benefits only the candidate and harms others, they can get a demerit,” he added. “One demerit equals 3 percent of your vote deduction. Once you hit five (demerits) as a candidate, as an individual, you are booted from the election.”
Reese said he thought that though demerits lack any tangible consequence for a party until they reach 10 demerits, they still serve as an important warning for the party.
The impact the demerits have outside of the candidates and parties — on the voters themselves — isn’t fully clear.
However, Pearlman noted that all of the information regarding CSG elections, complaints and hearings is made public for students through the CSG website and often in the Michigan Daily, saying holding hearings and giving demerits is a significant part to CSG elections.
Wednesday’s hearing was held following the start of student voting, indicating that students who already voted would not have heard results of the hearing before they voted.
“I wish there was a way to have it all done before all the voting’s done, but unfortunately if campaigning continues through elections; you’ve got to hold them to the rules,” Reese said. “It’s the best I think that you can come up with. There might be individual rules that I might change if I was writing the code myself, but I think by and large it’s a pretty fair process.”
Reese said he has been impressed with the responsible use of the complaint process that he has seen in the parties and candidates this year. However, despite being only days before the unofficial results are released, he said it is possible for at least one more complaint to be filed.