Student Association election watchdogs shift focus

The leader of the regulatory body traditionally charged with scrutinizing Student Association elections is pledging to move away from doggedly seeking out rule violations to instead boost campus participation in the vote.

Senior Phil Gardner, chair of the Joint Elections Committee, said the group’s top goal is to attract more voters to the February election, which he said typically achieves a 20-percent participation rate among the student body.

“We want rules to be followed, but most of our time this year will be promoting elections, getting more students involved, getting students to listen to candidates,” Gardner said.

Acting as referees instead of cops, the body will continue to enforce election rules set by the JEC charter, which was approved by the SA Senate Dec. 6 with the same violation policies as last year. Last spring, dozens of candidates received election penalties for putting up campaign posters in prohibited locations, sending unsolicited e-mails and using posters without JEC approval, though none were removed from the ballot.

“In the past, the JEC enforced rules to the extreme, even when they didn’t have an effect on the outcome of elections,” Gardner said.

In March 2009, the JEC accused Student Association presidential candidate Kyle Boyer of exceeding the $1,000 campaign spending limit in the general election. The committee charged Boyer with three violations for failing to report the value of a car he borrowed to display posters, play music and dance on, bringing his total violations to eight and disqualifying him from the election.

Media Credit: Michelle Rattinger
Former SA presidential contender Kyle Boyer stands on the car that cost him the election. The JEC booted Boyer off the ballot in 2009 because he failed to report the market value of the car.

Gardner said if JEC members notice “egregious violations” this spring or if students report violations, the committee will take action, but otherwise they will “let the kids play.”

Sophomore and Joint Elections Committee vice chair Gordon Pera said the committee should not solely focus on hunting for violations.

“The only specific goals this committee should have are carrying out that mission [of enforcing the JEC charter] and promoting the election in order to get more students involved in the process,” Pera said.

The committee will launch a “Choose Your GW” promotion for the election to help students learn about the candidates through University e-mail and social media.

With a heightened focus on publicity efforts, Tim Miller, director of the Center for Student Engagement, expressed concern that the Joint Elections Committee may overlook its responsibility of enforcing the rules.

Miller, who has overseen six elections at GW, advised the committee to be careful in making judgments about which rules should be upheld.

“The charter was created for a reason, and the JEC exists to enforce the charter,” Miller said. He said it is the job of the organizations hosting the elections to attract student interest in their candidates, not the committee’s.

Gardner is the first JEC chair in recent years to have run for a top campus post, which allows him to have a unique perspective, Miller noted. Last spring, the senior ran and lost on a platform to “abolish” the Student Association.

Senior Dylan Pyne, chair of the Marvin Center Governing Board, said he appointed a student-focused leader like Gardner to the JEC so the committee can “focus more on spreading the word about the elections and assisting in publicizing the candidates’ actual platforms and beliefs.”

Candidate registration kicks off Feb. 8. Students can begin postering the following week, and elections will be held Feb. 22 and 23.

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