With recent rule changes to an already strict election code, Central Student Government presidential candidates will need to remain cautious during the next two days after the CSG election polls opened at midnight Wednesday.
Changes to Article VI of the CSG compiled code have increased the severity of consequences for all levels of infractions. Demerits are assigned at the authority of the University Election Commission to individual candidates or parties based on violations of the code.
In the past, demerits did not affect a candidate until five demerits were accumulated, at which point that candidate would be removed from the election. If a party received 10 demerits, the entire party would be disqualified. Under the new code, each demerit results in a 3-percent deduction of total weighted votes in the election.
The UEC now also has the power to issue an official warning instead of a demerit. The warning does not carry any penalty like a demerit does.
One of the minor infractions that a warning has been used for was the absence of several candidates at the mandatory candidates’ meeting that took place Feb. 27. A violation at this level usually calls for one to two demerits to be issued to the individual candidate.
Prior to the hearing, Law student Bryson Nitta, election director, said the precedent of issuing a warning for this offense was a likely possibility.
“The way that we’re approaching this is with an awareness that there can be big consequences down the road that might not be commensurate with the problem that arises when a candidate doesn’t come to the meeting,” he said.
The results of the March 12 UEC hearing regarding these infractions were a mix of warnings and demerits. According to the depositions, candidates who were able to present evidence of “extenuating circumstances” were issued a warning, while those whom the UEC ruled did not sufficiently justify their absence were issued one demerit each. In total, 24 candidates were issued demerits and 10 were issued warnings.
Another example of a minor infraction is the posting of campaign materials in prohibited areas. The only places where campaign materials may be posted in University buildings are in designated spaces within those University buildings and residence halls. One of the prohibited areas includes the CSG chambers themselves. No infractions on prohibited posting have been issued thus far.
Major infractions earn three to four demerits and include offenses such as influencing students while voting and violating rules governing campaign finances. Egregious infractions call for a minimum of four demerits with at least 12 percent of votes deducted. These violations include voting fraud, bribing voters and preventing students from voting.
Campaign spending is also limited, according to the code. Individual legislative candidates may only contribute up to $50 toward his or her campaign. Presidential tickets may only spend up to $1,000. Additionally, parties are only allowed to spend up to $1,000 per presidential ticket and $50 per individual legislative candidate.
Individual voters are permitted to donate up to $25 per legislative candidate and $100 per presidential ticket, with no more than a combined total donation of $150. Any donations accepted from sources other than individual candidates, parties or eligible voters are prohibited.
The revised code also increases the authority of the UEC with regard to the official campaign period. Under the previous code, there was no restriction to campaigning before the official start of the campaign period at the conclusion of the mandatory candidates’ meeting. Now any possible violations during unofficial campaigning can be ruled on by UEC in a hearing to take place during the official period.
Nitta said the change was made as a precaution for a theoretical violation and no such problems regarding unofficial campaigning have occurred.
He added that he is working to increase communication with executive candidates and party chairs in order to prevent possible infractions.
“I think opening wider communication and informal conversation will be a way to stave off, hopefully, from litigation that might be controversial,” Nitta said.
Nitta said he has received multiple e-mails from candidates regarding specific rules of campaigning outlined in the code.
“It’s really positive,” he said. “It shows that people are trying to stay within the confines of the rules, and I think that’s great.”
However, other student government bodies have recently faced election controversies. The Central Student Judiciary recently invalidated the December 2013 elections for the University of Michigan Engineering Council, ordering that those elected executive officers be removed from their positions.
Candidates from two of the parties running in the March 26-27 CSG elections, Make Michigan and FORUM, said they are avoiding such controversies. Both campaigns emphasize a shift away from political agendas.