Controversial practices mark student organization elections

As executive board campaign season winds down for many student organizations, some group members in multiple organizations have raised concerns over the policies established for student elections.

The Student Activities Center allows every student organization to establish its own constitution and campaign rules. With the freedom for students to maintain and manage their groups, this year’s election season led to disagreement between students in some organizations about how to facilitate an election properly within their group.

“Each organization sets their own election processes within their constitution,” Tim Miller, executive director of the Student Activities Center, said in an e-mail. “The role of the Student Activities Center is to address concerns that are raised and ensure that the organization follows their constitution.”

Although most student candidates interviewed cited similar campaign tactics such as Facebook groups and word-of-mouth, other ways of reaching voters were debated among students.

The College Republicans’ particularly controversial campaign period was discussed extensively on The GW Patriot, a conservative blog, and resulted in the barring of one potential candidate, multiple CR members confirmed.

“Our constitution states that, two weeks before the election, people aren’t allowed to register for the CRs and be able to vote,” said Chris Oman, the group’s newly elected Political Affairs director for the 2010-2011 academic year. Oman said one person illegally registered potential voters after the cut-off date in order to gain additional votes. The Fair Elections Committee, a branch within the CRs made up of three e-board members, had been established to monitor such disputes and subsequently prevented e-board candidate Alex Fitzsimmons from entering the race. Fitzsimmons confirmed that he was never officially disqualified and he was only exploring the possibility of running when the FEC barred him from the race.

“This was one of the biggest years in terms of controversy,” Oman said.

Jake Wolf, the CR president-elect, said a new, clarified constitution is one of his first initiatives in his new position.

“Last week Tim Miller ordered us to change our constitution. It’s way too broad. It doesn’t define a lot of terms – so that’s going to be one of our first orders of business,” Wolf said. “Multiple individuals went to [SAC] with complaints about how our elections were being run.”

Kevin Doré, CR secretary-elect, said the election process put some strain on the group as a whole.

“It’s really kind of sad because everyone in the College Republicans is very close,” he said.

The College Democrats have a voter registration policy similar to that of the College Republicans, though the group didn’t face as controversial an election season as its conservative counterpart.

“Every year has a different feeling,” said Greta Twombly, current vice president of the CDs. “Some people have taken a much more active role, and others take a more standard approach. It runs the gamut. It’s been controversial in other years, but this year was pretty uneventful.”

Another student group that had election and voting disputes, as well as complaints over the transparency of its constitution, was the Generic Theatre Company, a student theater group.

“It was a highly contested race between two well-known members in the community,” said Samantha Dercher, a senior in GTC.

The group’s first voting method, which allowed members to vote online via surveymonkey.com, led to problems when voters discovered they could choose a candidate more than once if they used different browsers. The group then required voters to register with an e-mail account, ensuring that their vote would get logged and that each voter only cast one ballot.

Complaints among group members also developed when graduating seniors were told to abstain from voting.

“They set up the e-mail account, but without letting seniors vote, who had already voted on the website,” Dercher said. “My personal concern was that I couldn’t find the group’s constitution anywhere online. It felt like there should have been a little more structure set up for this.”

Like members of the CRs, Dercher said enforcing more transparency of each group’s constitution could help campaigns run more smoothly and preserve the unity of the organization’s members.

“It’s just that nobody saw it coming. We are a very close-knit community,” Dercher said. “My one request would be that SAC makes sure whatever policies groups make are visible.”

Miller said SAC has dealt with election and constitutional issues in previous years.

“We have had concerns raised to us through the years and we bring in both the person(s) raising the issue and the e-board and discuss the concerns and come to a resolution that ensures the group is following their constitution and also being fair in their election processes,” Miller said.

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