Why UT is giving students a new election

The Election Supervisory Board has come under fire recently over its role in this year’s student government elections. The charge of the committee is something that each member of ESB holds in high regard. Rulings are not animated by personal feelings toward any of the candidates but instead by a deep concern for our University’s electoral process. Our worst failing thus far — which we acknowledge wholeheartedly — has been in not communicating sufficiently with the voters. The irony of a supervisory board failing to be adequately transparent or communicative is not lost on us. Nonetheless, we now aim to describe our rationale.

Readers may have heard phrases like “procedural irregularity” and “due process” in election communications in the past few weeks. What may come across as hyperbolic buzzwords simply mean that UT students have the right to democratically select the best leaders from amongst their peers through a fair elections process each year. At its core, due process operates on a basic principle of fairness and requires hearings to be consistent, regardless of the parties involved in a particular case. In pursuit of fairness, ESB members spend many a sleepless night during the election cycle addressing complaints by interpreting and applying the election code. However, the ESB is not a police entity; it merely hears and rules on complaints brought before it by members of the student body. When students fail to speak up and file complaints, the ESB’s hands are tied.

Our system is built around diffusing the “power” over this process, so ESB’s decisions can be appealed to the SG Supreme Court. This appellate system requires that a second body, one that is fresh and impartial to the issue, review appealed decisions. Regrettably, members of both ESB and the SG Supreme Court overlooked this central tenet of appellate review. Surely there’s no point in having a second hearing if members of appellate entity attended the original hearing and have already made up their minds on the case. With this in mind, SG Supreme Court rulings had to be nullified — the appellate process had been tainted. This decision was not made lightly, given the SG Supreme Court’s hard work and dedication.
To rectify this flaw, a faculty member from the UT School of Law was brought in to provide a fresh set of eyes to cases involving executive alliances when either party chose to appeal ESB rulings. Otherwise, ESB rulings stood. The UT law professor upheld in full all ESB decisions brought before her.

Critics have stated that they are unable to find a section of the election code that speaks to the specifics of due process and therefore question the recent actions of the ESB and the Office of the Dean of Students. Due process is not something subjectively granted by a student-run organization’s legislative documents — it is ingrained in the very notion of fair electoral competition.

In recent years, the ESB’s effectiveness has been hindered by a broken election code, muddied by internal inconsistencies and ambiguity,which must be revised to avoid future botched elections. However, flaws in the institution are not cause to abandon it; imperfection should serve as an impetus for positive change.

Our involvement in ESB is motivated by a belief that SG elections must be fair. SG can play an important role in the lives of those who participate. Past leaders of SG include Daron K. Roberts and Paul Begala. The former has bettered the UT community as a faculty member, while the latter has become one of the most prominent leaders of the Democratic Party for his generation (playing an important role in electing and advising President Clinton), but both have cited SG as a vital and formative experience. Our problem is not with the efficacy of SG. Instead, we have grown concerned with a process that robs the students and candidates of its benefits.

Those who wish to serve the student body as an executive alliance deserve a fair election process, as do the students electing them. They deserve to be elected on the merits of their platform and commitment to accomplishing what they have promised. They deserve an electoral victory that is not mired in questions of procedural error by the very institutions commissioned to deliver a fair election.

Please note that the opinions expressed here are those of the authors and may not represent those of the Election Supervisory Board at large or the Office of the Dean of Students.