This post was updated on May 9 at 4:04 p.m.
This year’s Undergraduate Students Association Council Election Board promised to stand behind equitable and fair elections.
All it managed to stand behind, though, was the lectern it used to announce results Friday.
Each year, USAC elections test the will of the student body. Amid suspicious campaign tactics and caustic social media posts, the USAC Election Board is expected to monitor the campaigning process and ensure every candidate has a fair shot at earning a seat on the council table.
But that was too much to expect of this year’s election board. Despite receiving substantiated complaints about candidates breaking election bylaws and sullying the integrity of the democratic process, the board made one thing clear: The elections would go on, with or without equity.
And the election board got its election. A candidate who coerced a student to vote for her was elected, a slate that permitted its candidates to act undemocratically won three positions on the council table and the mere 26.5 percent of the student body that cared to vote walked away with less faith in the system than it came in with. Though the Election Code separates coercion and infringing upon a student’s right to vote in privacy, this board considers both coercive acts.
This year’s election was unprecedented. But it was also a failure. The election board didn’t act when given the chance. Consequently, this year’s election results are dubious, but the election board’s lack of a backbone isn’t.
We’ve seen this in the past. The 2016 election board failed to disqualify a student fee referendum for which campaign managers broke numerous campaign spending and sanction rules. And the previous board did little to quell concerns about block voting by certain campus organizations – or even to determine whether it happened.
Two years later, the board has made the same mistakes. Bella Martin, the newly elected general representative 2, and Victoria Solkovits, the defeated Bruins United candidate for external vice president, coerced a student to vote at the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity house. And there were other complaints filed against Bruins United that also claimed candidates forced students to vote for them.
The board said it could not ascertain whether the events occurred, but it’s unlikely it conducted a thorough enough investigation when it posted its findings less than an hour before releasing the election results.
More egregious, however, was the board’s callousness for maintaining the sanctity of the election. Just minutes before announcing the results – after already delaying its announcement by an hour – the board posted on Facebook that it was investigating whether to disqualify unnamed candidates for sinking to new lows to garner student votes. The board added it was seeking student testimonies as part of its investigation.
No one was disqualified. No further updates were given to the student body. There wasn’t even further mention of the potential illegitimacy of the election results during the announcement.
Instead, 10 minutes after the mysterious Facebook post, Election Board Chair Jack Price walked into Meyerhoff Park, announced the results and walked away as if nothing had happened. Students are now left to wonder whether some of their future elected officials won in a fair fashion.
The election board can certainly make amends and disqualify candidates who broke the rules and compromised the student body’s trust. But it’s already too late at this point. Changing the results after the fact draws into question the election board’s commitment to electoral integrity.
The USAC bylaws don’t require candidates running for office to have a moral compass. They do, however, require the election board to do what it can to protect the integrity of undergraduate student government elections.
This year’s election board fell short of that promise.