Changes to USG elections
New policies change how election violations are held by Judiciary
Published: Thursday, December 5, 2013
Updated: Thursday, December 5, 2013 00:12
The Undergraduate Student Government Senate approved changes to its election policies that change how violations are addressed.
The updated policies will allow the USG Judiciary to refuse to hear a case brought against a candidate, prevents hearings from taking place during the voting period, and clarifies a few generally practiced rules.
USG Chief of Staff John Giardina presented the changes, which were proposed by Giardina and the Elections Oversight Committee throughout the semester, to the senators at their meeting Wednesday night.
According to Giardina, the purpose of banning hearings during the voting period is to ensure cases are not brought against candidates solely to inhibit them from campaigning.
USG Senator Kevin Alvarez proposed to take out a clause from the legislation requiring that all “campaign conduct shall preserve the spirit and integrity of the Undergraduate Student Government.”
His motion to amend failed, but the senate was divided by a 10-13 vote and nine senators abstained. Giardina said the clause is not meant to prevent candidates from disagreeing with USG, but to prevent slanderous behavior.
Alvarez said he disliked the vague language and feared it gave the judiciary too much authority in determining election outcomes.
“Slander and libel are illegal, you can’t do them anyway. I’m not okay with vague language that opens it up for five people to decide what the spirit of USG is. That’s up to the voters,” Alvarez said.
The argument reflected one spurred last spring among senators when the Judiciary determined the race for USG president. Then-USG Comptroller Edward Courchaine won the presidency though he received fewer votes than Senate Speaker Shiv Gandhi, who was disqualified due to campaign rule violations.
But Chairperson Hailey Manfredi, a member of the EOC, said she proposed the language intending it to safeguard USG’s reputation from rogue candidates.
“I think it’s okay to have clauses that are vague. It’s the purpose of the judiciary to interpret,” she said. “It’s reserved for something completely outlandish that may reflect poorly on the organization and we don’t want (the candidate) to continue to do that.”
Senator David Rifkin agreed with Manfredi, pointing to how easily the organization’s reputation could be tarnished if a candidate attacks it.
But Senator Carlyle Bethel disagreed.
“The pathway to hell is paved with good intentions,” he said.
The new policies also change how violations are sanctioned. While candidates were previously disqualified from races for any policy violation, the new rules allow for the judiciary to issue a warning to the candidate and disallow his or her use of USG resources during the campaign before forcing the violator to drop out.
Giardina said while the ability to issue a warning will have an immediate impact, USG does not currently offer candidates enough resources to make seizing the flow of them a threatening sanction.
“This is intended to provide a middle ground,” Giardina said. “Currently the only real resources we offer are copies (for campaign flyers). This rule lays the groundwork for future elections and for future EOC members to find a middle ground.”
The election policies, which will be put to use for the organization’s elections in the spring, were passed by an 11-9 vote with 12 senators abstaining.
In addition to the policy changes, the Student Development Committee Chair Hailey Manfredi presented her committee’s report on the sexual assault issues on campus at Wednesday’s meeting.
According to the report, between June 1, 2011 and July 1, 2013–74 incidents were reported at UConn. No data is yet available to compare this number to peer institutions, but Manfredi said her committee spent a significant amount of time reaching out to UConn students to determine what they think about the university’s culture towards rape.
“We employed a variety of ways to get student feedback and got a variety of answers in perspectives in that way,” Manfredi said.
Manfredi said there is no general view on campus, and she received a variety of different assessments of campus safety and security. While some considered the sexual assuault issues to be “undeserved martyrdom,” others celebrated and welcomed the attention the issue is beginning to receive.
Going forward, Manfredi said she wants to look into dorm security, campus safety features such as night lighting and increasing the number of emergency “blue lights,” and changing how the issues are addressed during orientation.
“Going to need more feedback on this before we have specific steps to take moving forward,” she said.
Manfredi said a number of other USG committees will also take up the issue. The report proposes launching a visual awareness campaign that aims to make students cognizant of sexual assault issues, making a flow chart that can guide victims to the various resources on campus.
“While there are a lot of great resources, calling the Sexual Assault Crisis Center of Eastern Connecticut should be the first step,” Manfredi said. “They will provide you with a personalized experience and tell you what steps to take from here.”