For the second year in a row, the elections for Central Student Government ended without a clear winner. While forUM’s presidential candidate Chris Osborn and vice presidential candidate Hayley Sakwa, both LSA juniors, were ahead by 485 votes at the time polls closed on March 29, it was too early to declare victory.
With only about a fifth of students voting, the integrity of the CSG elections is constantly under question. As a result, CSG implemented a new, stricter election code requiring specific punishments following violations. Included in the code are rules regarding campaign donations, which are intended to prevent any individual or party from winning because of access to significantly greater funding. It’s the responsibility of the University Election Commission, a third-party organization, to establish the guilt of accused parties or candidates, while the Central Student Judiciary hears appeals.
The UEC disqualified Osborn and Sakwa after finding that Osborn, on multiple occasions, influenced students who were in the process of voting. This resulted in four major CSG election code violations, and the candidates were assessed a total of eight demerits, which exceeds the limit of four demerits per person allowed before disqualification. Additionally, the forUM party was assessed eight demerits for accepting donations from Osborn and Sakwa for $300 each, double the $150 per-individual limit. Ten demerits total are required for a party to be disqualified.
Many are frustrated with the election results and later disqualifications. A Michigan Daily editorial claimed that the sole purpose of the charges brought against Osborn and Sakwa, one filed by youMICH and the other filed jointly by youMICH and momentUM, “seemed solely intent on preventing them from taking office, pending an appeal.” However, both complaints were filed with the UEC prior to the results becoming public. The editorial also belittles the significance of the campaign infractions and only questions the other parties’ motivation to pursue these violations. Everyone involved has a vested interest in the results of the elections and clearly many motives are at play at once. However, all those involved, including the Daily, should not lose sight of the importance of protecting the CSG election process’s integrity.
The Compiled Code offers clear and straightforward guidelines on how student campaigns should operate. It’s the responsibility of those running for CSG positions, especially president and vice president, to do their due diligence and understand these rules. The editorial and many commenters have stressed the importance of CSG on campus and its relationship with the University. The Daily editorial claims that “the election and resulting drama embarrass more than impress (the administration).” Tensions clearly are running high between parties, but the “drama” of ensuring fair elections is paramount to CSG’s existence.
Additionally, much has been made of youMICH’s role in the investigation process. Many have questioned the party’s motives since they have the most to gain from Osborn and Sakwa’s disqualification — their candidates Business and LSA junior Michael Proppe and LSA sophomore Bobby Dishell came in second and will take office if the potential appeal fails. The role of youMICH does raise a serious question surrounding enforcement with violations. The editorial proposes the creation of a third-party organization to police the elections. By creating a redundant committee operating under the UEC, CSG would only overcomplicate and muddle the system already in place.
By letting parties police themselves and each other, they ensure a high level of compliance. Parties would want to avoid the type of public humiliation and negative attention forUM has received. They’re motivated to follow the rules, while also making certain the compliance of others. This effectively cleans up the election process and allows the deserving candidates to win. Finally, by actually disqualifying a winning ticket, the UEC has also established the precedent of ridged enforcement and harsh punishments, which will encourage all parties to abide by the policies in the future.
The prompt seating of the next CSG president is overshadowed by the importance of ensuring the credibility of the election and its winner. Furthermore, this controversy shows that the new election code is working by preventing individuals from tampering and manipulating the process. While the disqualification of Osborn and Sakwa is disappointing on many levels, demonstrating that CSG takes itself and its election process seriously will only encourage students and the University to do the same.
Timothy Burroughs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.