New Rules Change Election Process

By Nate Sans

On Sept. 8, the Student Government Association (SGA) passed the Election Bylaws Reform Act, which updated regulations for students running for SGA offices. The act includes a change allowing candidates to campaign through the voting period – a technicality that caused disqualifications in past SGA races. The goal of the act is to streamline the election process by allowing candidates more freedom in their campaigning by permitting campaigning during the signature-gathering and voting phases of their candidacy. The act also outlines a clear process for adjudicating campaign rules violations.

SGA Press Secretary Olivia Noble ’13 described how the new rules will make the election process more fair for all candidates.

“Before there were arbitrary rules that people either didn’t understand or didn’t read,” said Noble. “That was the reason why people got disqualified, but it shouldn’t be like that.”

Previous legislation barred candidates from campaigning except within the specific time period between collecting signatures to petition for entry into the race and before the voting period began. This meant that candidates were only able to tell people signing their petitions that they hoped to run and were not allowed to go into detail about their platforms.

The new act allows campaigning to begin during the time in which candidates are petitioning for signatures. The new rules also require that candidates who are running for class-specific offices get signatures from members of the class they would be representing – e.g. only juniors may sign the petition of a student running for Junior Senator.

According to Noble, election reform has long been a priority for SGA President Charlie Arnowitz ’13 ““ he and current Chief of Staff Anna Esten ’13 also wrote the Arnowitz-Esten Fair Elections Act of 2011.

“[Arnowitz] and [Esten] wrote an elections reform in the spring of 2010 to modernize elections,” said Noble. “They always intended to update them later on.”

Esten explains that the Fair Elections Act of 2011, which addressed all-campus email privileges, was never meant to be a permanent solution to the problems the SGA was having with elections.

“The Fair Elections Act was a short term solution to a very specific problem,” said Esten. “Quite simply, the elections bylaws were out of touch with the way Middlebury functions today … We kept the vast majority of the rules that existed intact.”

Esten explained that when the Fair Elections Act was written, the SGA had to read over many of the rules for elections that had previously been ignored. In doing this, rules such as the restrictions on the campaigning timeframe started to be enforced.

“That was the primary reason that President Arnowitz and I rewrote the bylaws this summer,” said Esten. “It was extremely unfortunate that students that cared enough about Middlebury to run for election were being regularly disqualified because of a rule that seemed arbitrary.”

Before the Arnowitz-Esten Act, the most recent changes to campaign rules were made in 2002. Noble said that the ongoing goal of the Arnowitz-Esten Act and the new Election Bylaws Reform Act is to update the rules to accommodate use of the internet and to remove confusing complications that caused disqualifications.

The changes to rules come in the wake of controversy caused by the disqualification of several candidates for the position of the President of the SGA. The Campus reported in October 2011 that SGA presidential candidate Mugo Mutothori ’12 was disqualified from the SGA presidential election because he solicited votes after the end of the designated campaigning period.

In this particular incident, Mutothori was accused of sending text messages and an email to supporters encouraging them to vote after the voting period had already begun and after the campaign period had ended.

Mutothori was one of five candidates in a two-round election and received the second-most votes of any candidate behind eventual winner Vin Recca ’12. Mutothori declined to comment on the changes to the election rules.

Fif Aganga ’13 was also disqualified from an SGA presidential race for failing to follow campaigning rules. In April 2012 Aganga was dismissed from his position as Junior Senator, and in an interview with the Campus made comments relating to his impending presidential campaign before the official campaigning period had begun.

Aganga was quoted as saying, “I believe I am the perfect candidate to finally free the student government from the iron grip of easy and complacent decisions. I plan to kick-start this government, taking the reins of what I know can be a powerful force for good.”

These statements, construed as early campaigning by the SGA, led to his disqualification from the race. Aganga did not respond to a request for comment on the changes to the election rules.

Noble noted that under the new rules neither Mutothori and Aganga would have been disqualified from their campaigns. The act calls for an Elections Council to be formed, which will have two student senators and four other students. The council will examine rules violations and make a recommendation to the Senate whether or not a candidate should be disqualified. The Senate then must decide by a two-thirds majority to disqualify the candidate.

The new rules were met with approval by Zach Dallmeyer-Drennen ’14, who wrote a May 2011 column for the Campus criticizing the decision to disqualify Aganga, calling the disqualification “patently absurd” and stating “the law must be changed.”

“I’m glad that [President] Arnowitz was so quick to follow through with his campaign promise to simplify the overly restrictive election law that had made elections a frustrating process for students over the past couple of years,” wrote Dallmeyer-Drennen in an email. “I hope that this change … means that future elections are about the issues important to the student body instead of about who put signs up on which day.”

The act not only affects the candidates running for offices, but also students voting in the elections. Under the new act, students are not allowed to coerce voting by sharing an internet-enabled device or willfully observe other students voting.