Election process altered

Student Government President Andy Hixson remembers the chaos of last year’s spring election all too well.

Although he received 14 percent more votes than his opponent in the 2004 student body presidential race, the SGA election committee refused to acknowledge him as the winner, questioning his eligibility as a candidate.

During the course of a month-long debate between administrators and the committee, it was uncertain who would serve as the next SGA president. It wasn’t until the Board of Regents declared that Hixson rightfully won the election that the confusion ended.

Hixson said he doesn’t want to see a repeat of last year’s controversy in the upcoming SGA spring election, which will take place April 13-14.

Changes aim to smoothelection process

The new SGA constitution, which was put into effect in January, has eliminated the concept of an election committee composed of student senators and has replaced it with an election commission, whose members are required to have no affiliations with SGA.

“(The commission) was designed to be a non-partisan, unbiased body to take care of the election guidelines and all that,” Hixson said. “We were shown (last year) what can go wrong if one group has too much control over something.”

The chief justice is responsible for choosing five to 11 students to serve on the commission. These individuals are not permitted to be current members of SGA or to have a significant relationship with any candidate.

According to the SGA constitution, the commission oversees the election in the following capacities:

Drafting election rules and guidelines.

* Preparing election packets.

* Resolving questions or concerns regarding elections.

* Enforcing election rules.

* Creating election ballots.

* Staffing polling areas.

The commission has no authority to certify election results, as that power is vested to the chief justice and the dean of students.

“I’m really glad that this has been removed from SGA,” Hixson said.

Sen. Michael Tobergta said the goal of creating a commission that is truly unbiased is unattainable.

“I admire the intent,” Tobergta said, “but the reality is … that it’s not going to work. You’re essentially going to have the same thing that you complained about before of having people with certain biases.”

Commission’s diversity, biases questioned

The SGA constitution states that the election commission shall “represent a broad and diverse range of student constituencies.”

Chief Justice Nathan Hagler, upon receiving a consensus from the other justices, submitted a list of eight members – all white students – for the commission to the Dean of Students Office on March 28.

All but two of these students are involved in a Greek organization on campus.

Tobergta said the selection of these members defeats the purpose of forming a diverse, unbiased commission.

“I just think that people that are non-Greek, non-traditional students, African American students (and) international students are left out of the fold,” he said.

Hagler said it hadn’t occurred to him that all the students he selected were white.

“I wasn’t really thinking about (race) being an issue,” Hagler said, “but I could see where from a politically-correct standpoint it doesn’t look so good.”

Hixson said he would not criticize the judicial council for its selection of members to the commission.

“‘Diverse’ in this case isn’t just a race issue,” Hixson said. “It’s kind of a frame-of-mind issue too.”

SGA Vice President of Public Relations Jen Perry said she agrees with Hixson’s idea that diversity implies more than simply race.

“On the surface, racially, it’s not a diverse group,” she said. “But you have to look at every one of those members’ different backgrounds, different interests (and) different experiences.”

Perry, a member of a Greek organization on campus, was the only candidate for student body president as of March 29.

“If a non-Greek was running against her, it could be perceived that there would be a bias,” Tobergta said. “You have several people (on the commission) from the same sorority or fraternity … They’re going to be looking at their interests possibly. That’s just human nature.”

Perry said she does not believe a non-Greek candidate would be put at a disadvantage running against her.

Hixson agrees and said he is not worried about the members of the commission slighting any candidate.

“If they were intentionally doing things to hinder somebody’s campaign … it would be very obvious what they were doing,” he said.

However, Hixson said it is a valid concern that there is a majority of Greek students on the commission. But he went on to acknowledge that Greeks are more readily available on campus than other students.

“It’s a tough job to get people to volunteer for something that they’re not going to get paid for,” Hixson said.

Hagler said he doesn’t foresee any problems with his selections for the commission.

“Diversity doesn’t really come into play anyway,” he said. “All they’re really going to be doing from this point forward is just … making sure that the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed.

“Most of the work’s cut out for them, so it’s really just going to be following the guidelines of the constitution when it comes to election qualifications or election rules. There’s really not a whole lot of room for interpretation, where sometimes a bias could come into play and really have an impact on the election.”

Hixson said he is confident that Dean of Students Kent Kelso will take appropriate action if he has concerns about the commission’s members.

Kelso was unavailable for comment.

Students will vote for each of the five executive board officers, 15 senators and three justices in the upcoming SGA election.

Those elected will serve a one-year term that begins on July 1.

Students wishing to run for any of the available positions must submit a completed election packet to the Dean of Students Office by 10 a.m. on April 4.

Packets are available outside the SGA office or in the Dean of Students Office.