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Electoral code faces revisions

Nov. 18, 2010

By Sara Tirrito
Staff Writer

A bill to revise the electoral code is slated for introduction at tonight's Student Senate meeting. This bill follows a similar bill tabled in the senate last Thursday that called for extensive revisions of the electoral code. The revisions are currently a source of hot debate in the senate.

Tonight's bill will be the first of three related bills and will include some of the same revisions as the original bill, but will not include revisions to policies regarding coalition campaigning, disqualification or criteria used by the executive commission for sanctioning, said Fort Worth senior Daniel Houston, president pro tempore of the Student Senate and chairman of the operations and procedures committee.

Senate president and Falls City junior Michael Lyssy said he was pleased with the senate's discussion of the original bill, but he thinks dividing the revisions will help to make the document presented tonight more acceptable to the senate.

"I think that's going be a little bit more manageable and a little bit more acceptable in the long run than trying to look at a gigantic document with such immense changes," Lyssy said.

Houston led the revisions on both the original bill and the bill slated for introduction tonight.

Although Houston is not required to keep amendments proposed during the original bill's presentation to the senate when the new bills are written, he said he plans to take the concerns raised into consideration.

"I fully intend to work with the sponsors of all of those amendments to address concerns they had," Houston said. "Certainly the spirit of the amendments could very well be reflected in the final product."

Of the next two bills, one will include revisions regarding free campaigns association and the other will include revisions dealing with disqualifications and the criteria used by the executive commission to determine the severity of sanctions, Houston said.

"Changes are needed in the electoral code because there's a huge disconnect between the candidates running for positions and the individuals in the electoral commission who are enforcing the provisions of the electoral code, and this is due in large part to ambiguity in the language of the document. It's due to the fact that people when they read the document take different things from it," Houston said. "This ambiguity allows for a wide range of interpretation on the part of the electoral commission that is not conducive to holding an objective election."

Electoral commissioner and Houston junior Gregg Ortiz said he agrees that some changes to the code are needed, such as adding in regulations for Facebook and media campaigning, and correcting grammatical errors. However, he said little about the code is ambiguous and that differences in the interpretation of the code should not cause problems because candidates can consult the electoral commission for clarifications.

"The reason the commission is there is to set the regulations for the entire election and therefore to answer questions," Ortiz said. "If a candidate is concerned or confused about a certain point in the code, then they would come to me, or anybody on the commission for that matter, and we would gladly clarify it. It's not like we set them out blindly and then sanction them for violating something that they weren't aware of."

Although there is room for the electoral commission to interpret the code differently from year to year, Ortiz said, the commission tries to be practical in its decisions.

"When we are reviewing a case and debating on what a violation is and what a sanction should be, it's always done in the most practical and simplistic form," Ortiz said. "It's rarely an issue of what's the most extreme sanction we can provide or put down and I think if there was any difference from year to year as far as how it'd be interpreted, it would be in a number of extremes that would show up from commission to commission. Every commissioner's basic goal is to keep it as simple as possible. We're not power hungry."

In last spring's internal vice president race, then-junior Paul Baumgardner was disqualified for "coalition campaigning" with his sister Katie Jo and for Facebook violations. Although some revisions to the code that were brought before the senate in last Thursday's bill (and that will be brought up in a future bill) address the same topics that were brought up by last year's IVP race, Houston said those revisions were not proposed based solely on what happened last year.

"When you're trying to examine the problems in a document like the electoral code over the course of ultimately years, you cannot ignore an issue as prevalent as Paul Baumgardner's disqualification, just like you cannot ignore issues with previous campaigns," Houston said. "A majority of the changes we proposed have no reflection whatsoever to Paul Baumgardner's campaign last year."

Ortiz said he believes that what happened during the spring elections did instigate the call for some revisions, such as those regarding disqualification, but he hopes that the commission's ability to disqualify a candidate won't be taken away.

"The commission should be able to regulate an election in a perspective that others won't see," Ortiz said.

"You need an outsider to always have a fresh look and make a logical decision, and in the last five years, disqualification has only been used twice."

Dr. Kevin Jackson, vice president for student life and adviser to the student body president and Student Senate, said he thinks it is wise for the senate to examine last spring's elections in order to determine if changes need to be made to the code.

"I think each time you have an election you learn something and I think it is wise of our Student Senate to review what they feel like was learned from the last election, and if they think it is significant I think they need to bring those forward and see if there are enough senators that agree with them to change the code," Jackson said.