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Do election rules even matter anymore?

Andrew Parks

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On March 21, the Student Government Association Elections Board released a decision on the penalty for election violations committed by newly elected SGA Vice President for Student Affairs Stephen Keller. Keller stood accused of passing out fliers endorsing both himself and candidates for the six other SGA executive offices that were not reported on his original financial disclosure forms at the time of their submission.

While such a violation may seem minor at first glance, Article VI of the 2014 SGA Elections Manual makes it clear that the failure to file an accurate financial disclosure report by the given deadline is a violation that should result in immediate disqualification. Keller, however, received only 75 hours of community service.

To be fair, Keller submitted a modified financial disclosure form the day after the election and 48 hours after the final deadline for such forms that listed the fliers in question. However, this came after a WVUA report in which Keller first denied any connection to the faction that printed the fliers, Students for Experienced Leadership, and stated clearly that the fliers donated to his campaign would not be listed on his disclosure forms.

Keller’s denial of any connection with SEL clearly contradicted statements he made on the record while speaking with a whistle–blower who later brought that recording to media attention. Given Keller’s statements in his interview with WVUA regarding the absence of fliers in his original disclosure report, it stands to reason that had his direct involvement with SEL not been brought to light, no modified financial disclosure form would have ever been submitted.

Given this set of facts, any rational observer must wonder why the sentence of disqualification – the codified, required penalty for this exact violation – was commuted in favor of community service. Granted, the absence of a few dollars’ worth of fliers that probably had no real, substantive effect on the election’s outcome from a disclosure report is hardly a significant offense. However, it nonetheless constitutes a specific violation with a very specific penalty.

That penalty was not the one assigned to Keller. While 75 hours of anything, even something as charitable as community service, is a significant burden on the violator, it still isn’t what the Elections Manual calls for.

That begs the question: If the Elections Board doesn’t always follow the Elections Manual, should anyone else? How seriously can we really consider a code if the very institution charged with enforcing it doesn’t always follow it? I can respect an attempt at leniency, which is admittedly called for in this case, as long as it falls within the bounds of statutory constraints. This ruling didn’t.

If the Elections Board doesn’t respect statutory constraints, should candidates? And, more to the point, will they in the future?

Perhaps that’s the question that the SGA Judicial Board, which is set to hear Keller’s appeal of the Election Board’s ruling, should be asking itself right now.

Andrew Parks is a junior majoring in political science. His column runs biweekly.

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Do election rules even matter anymore?