The Arizona Desert Lamp

Your ASUA Elections Code — now with even less liberty!

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 4 December 2008

In spite of ebullient praise from the Senate on Kenny Ho’s hard work on the Election’s Code, the changes are relatively minimal. One of the most anticipated changes, a reduction in spending limits, failed to materialize. The only substantive changes are the following:

-Includes a provision on multiple signatures from the same person: “If a qualified voter signs more than the maximum number of nominating petitions allotted for a respective position, their name shall be struck out entirely on each nominating petitions [sic] for that specific race.” This is common sense.

-Notes that candidates cannot send surrogates to attend required Candidate Meetings. First of all, why are candidates required to go to these meetings in the first place? If it’s to clarify election rules, that can easily be accomplished via email. So long as candidates realize that they are responsible for all changes in Election Rules, and must adhere to all aspects of the election code, there’s no reason to make them go to a meeting. This is just another unnecessary loophole for candidates to jump through.

But even accepting the dubious proposition that these meetings are essential, sending a surrogate must be acceptable. Should something come up for the candidate, rendering them unable to attend the meeting, it is better for the candidate to get the necessary information from a trusted surrogate, rather than being dropped entirely. So long as candidates cannot use, “My surrogate ate your rule change” as an excuse for failing to adhere to the Code, the use of surrogates should be allowed.

-Candidates must remain with their campaign materials, 75 ft away from a polling place on election days. Common sense.

-Under the “Campaign Material Clean-Up Section,” the code now includes Facebook groups. This means that all Facebook groups relating to the election must be removed within one business week after the election has ended.

Going back to core principles — how can ASUA claim jurisdiction over Facebook, or any online resource that isn’t on ASUA’s own webpage? I can actually understand the listserv provision — not only is it through the university’s mail service, but sending campaign agitprop through club listservs impedes with regular club business.

But Facebook, MySpace, et al are not part of the university system. They are personal sites, for personal use. What a Facebook user puts on that site is subject to review by Facebook — not ASUA.

Curiously, the Senate that approved this code is in violation of its tenets: every single standing Senator still has their campaign group in existence, well after the election period. Both of Tommy Bruce’s groups are still up; Patel’s Senate site and Admin. VP site still remain. Curiously, Anderson’s is off, perhaps since she’s the only one that actually read the Code. The ultimately failed “Abolish ASUA” group still exists as well.

However, this does lend itself to an interesting scenario:

1) The ASUA Constitution provides no protection against ex post facto laws.

2) Because every standing official still has maintained their campaign materials after the date at which they must be removed, this puts them in violation with the Election Code, and thus makes them ineligible to hold office.

3) On these grounds, every elected official is dismissed, and a special election must be called for every single seat.

Or, there’s a more common-sense approach: get rid of this sort of online regulation. If the Facebook group you joined is sending you too many “unsolicited” messages, you are well within your rights to leave that group. If there’s ever a point where online content seems to violate the code, then an opposing candidate can file a complaint. But rather than putting all of these harmless pages through a personal review process, wait for the complaint to arrive rather than preemptively checking everything.

Of course, this sort of regulation was not determined rationally, or with concerns about its actual impact, but instead on the basis of a visceral dislike. I’m sure the brainstorming went something like this:

“Gosh, those messages from campaign groups are really obnoxious. I wish that <insert candidate name> would quit sending me two messages a day!”

“Yeah. Darn tootin’, that sort of behavior just shouldn’t be allowed! It’s annoying.”

Never mind that nobody is ever forced to join a Facebook group; nobody is forced to even be on Facebook in the first place. But clearly, freedom to conduct a campaign is never relevant; instead, aggrandizement of authority seems to be the driving force behind this new code.

Some may wonder why something like this is worth caring about. Perhaps my hatred of elections regulation on national level, the blatant repression of third-party candidates (compare these stories in Texas and Louisiana for a dramatic example), and general distrust of government regulation play a role.

But I think that this Elections Code plays a strong role in ASUA’s dismal reputation. As Connor alluded to in an earlier post, these sorts of bureaucratic impediments make it harder for the “change” to which officials keep sacrificing rhetorical goats to actually happen. A kid who may have decided to run on a whim instead decides against, in the face of paperwork and repeated “check-ins” with Commissioner Ho (seriously, what are these meetings for? It’s akin to checking in with a probation officer).

Rather than putting a damper on elections that are already dead in spirit, the code should be redesigned to encourage participation. A few proposals off the top of my head:

-Remove any and all restrictions on electronic content.

-Quadruple, or even quintuple, spending limits.

-Remove the candidate check-in meetings.

-Remove the limit on outside donations; or, at the very least, quintuple it.

-Remove the “one name, one candidate” restriction


10 Responses

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  1. Emily Fritze said, on 4 December 2008 at 6:26 pm

    You misunderstood a lot about the code:
    -The “sending surrogate” clause was put in place due to some problems last year with candidates.
    -The Facebook group clause does not apply to PAST years Facebook groups. The new rule was put in place this year, so it begins with groups made after the code was approved.
    -The “unsolicited message” rule does not restrict candidates from sending a message to a member of their own Facebook group or a listserv that they have permission to send messages out on. By joining that Facebook group or listserv, that person agreed to receiving messages from the candidate or member of the club. The rule only applies to the mass messaging of random people and clubs that have not consented to receiving messages from that candidate. It is put into place to restrict spamming.
    – Finally, you need to understand something. The old election code from about three years before was ineffective. The general guideline for the current Elections Code was created by Elections Commissioner now Regent David Martinez. The code has been reworked the past two years and elections have run a lot smoother because of it. As you have noted in a past blog, many “legislative establishments are made in reaction to actual events.” So maybe you would understand why so many of these regulations have been established.
    – I agree with you on the donation limit. It needs to allow for more outside contribution or no limit at all. Why not help someone run for office who can’t afford it otherwise? I know I certainly would appreciate help in that area.
    – In regards to the idea that these restrictions hinder different people from running for office, I am appalled. If a person can’t/doesn’t want to get some signatures, a couple papers signed, submit some receipts, and attend one meeting, than why would they run in the first place? As a previous candidate, I can assure you that it is not a huge burden.

  2. Evan Lisull said, on 4 December 2008 at 7:05 pm

    As far as the past groups go, you are still assuming an ex post facto prohibition, which (thankfully) the U.S. Constitution has, but the ASUA constitution (which applies here) does not. Of course, I’d defer to the Supreme Court here, but I really don’t see anything preventing an Elections Commissioner from applying the rule to the past. The clause wouldn’t be included in the U.S. Constitution if it wasn’t necessary. Ultimately, though, that’s just to show a bit of the absurdity of these rules; I don’t expect this to be carried out.

    As far as the repression on potential candidates goes, I’m very serious. Wanting to make a change for the better in your university and putting up with a smorgasbord of bureaucracy are completely different impulses. Consider freshmen, who might be intimidated by the paperwork. Consider kids who just have a lot on their plate right now.
    All it takes is one bad impression for a potential Senator or even President to say, “Maybe next year.” I laud you on being able to jump through the hoops; but I don’t think that anyone else should have to jump through them as they stand. We have the same problem on the national scale. Candidates are not being judged on how sound their ideas are, but how effectively they can campaign and play the “election game.” I fail to see how this is any different.

    Incidentally, is it just one orientation meeting? The Code certainly discusses these meetings as multiple. I can’t complain about an orientation meeting; it’s the concept of “checking in with Commissioner Ho” that bothers me.

    Martinez certainly may have been reacting in response to unsavory doings. But I posit that things have swung too far in the opposite direction. I have trouble seeing how an elections code is “effective” when last year’s turnout was somewhere in the 10 percent range. The code may ensure smooth running elections for those that participate, but I’d prefer to loosen the code up in an attempt to get more people involved.

  3. Emily Fritze said, on 4 December 2008 at 7:25 pm

    Well, I don’t think we will agree on this one. I still stand to say that you might not be ready to run for an office if you are intimidated by a few duties. I was a meek freshman, and I managed ok by asking some questions. I agree that candidates should be judged on their ideas. However, public officials should also be articulate and confident enough to take initiative if unsure about running for an office. Yes, it was one meeting last year. Unless Commissioner Ho decides to add more this year, it should remain one. I don’t understand your logic in regards to the code and voter turn out. The quality of an elections code does not determine how successful voter turn out is. The code serves as a means to ensure fair and efficient elections. Voting is up to the voters, the candidates, and ASUA. ASUA is looking for ways to encourage students to vote. Hopefully, this year will see some kind of increase in turn out.

  4. […] plurality voting is a nice, stable equilibrium for student politicians themselves. Throw in some election regulations and the chance to hand cash to your constituents, and you’ve got a pleasant, self-sustaining […]

  5. […] though; this sounds rather familiar. In fact, it sounds like something written on this site when the Elections Code was approved back in December: Curiously, the Senate that […]

  6. The Arizona Desert Lamp said, on 18 February 2009 at 10:52 am

    […] this year’s student government officials (topics that Evan was on top of three, four, and seventy-six days ago, respectively). But a letter published pages later makes me wonder if there’s one […]

  7. […] alters the former policy – again, not spelled out, because regulations matter only when it comes to Facebook and MySpace – in which referendums, like candidates, had to have their signatures in no later than two weeks […]

  8. […] on the part of interested gamblers. But it’s not like we’re dealing with free elections anyways; we might as well have a little fun in the […]

  9. […] if there hadn’t already been enough elections madness for one year, the ballot itself has now been changed in media res: Voters logging […]

  10. […] even as the Senate voted to pass the Code with this provision, most all of them continued to maintain their own groups. This story was picked up in the Wildcat, and the Senate quickly moved to change their group names, […]

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