Students are responsible for policing campus elections

Wes Dodson

Campus-wide election rules are for the benefit of students. Campaign spending limits enforced by financial disclosures ensure access irrespective of financial ability. Campaign staff disclosures hold candidates accountable for their agents’ actions. In the past, the Election Supervisory Board has safeguarded this system in campus-wide elections and the Supreme Court in first-year elections have safeguarded this system. Now, this responsibility falls solely on the student body.

A spring 2019 decision by the SG Supreme Court, Pease v. ESB, curtailed the board's ability to enforce election rules without a complaint. Previously, the board would automatically issue citations – including citations disqualifying candidates – for failure to submit timely financial or campaign staff disclosures. After Pease, the board must receive a complaint from a student to initiate any disciplinary action.

While the SG Supreme Court is an appellate body in spring elections, it serves an administrative function similar to the ESB in fall First-Year Elections. This election, the Supreme Court is holding itself to the Pease standard – no disciplinary action will be taken unless precipitated by a complaint.  

This ruling has the practical effect of removing the Court from its former policing role altogether. The student body takes its place.

Students – especially opposing candidates – have historically fulfilled this role by enforcing the prohibitions against deceptive campaigning, misuse of university resources (e.g. spamming list servs), and candidate collaboration. Anyone on campus for the 2018 executive alliance election, when the ESB received nearly 200 complaints, knows that students are well capable of discharging this duty. 

After Pease, this responsibility extends to ensuring the timeliness and accuracy of financial and campaign staff disclosures – formerly the purview of the ESB and SG Supreme Court – as well. 

Placing this responsibility on students is an extension of the fact that the rules are for their benefit. In deciding whether to file a complaint, a student weighs the harm of a late or missing financial disclosure against the sanctions likely to be imposed on the candidate. If no student or candidate feels that the harm warrants submitting a complaint, it is not for the SG Supreme Court or the ESB to decide students’ interests for them by taking action. Election rules allow students to safeguard their interests but cannot decide their content.

In the upcoming First-Year Elections, the SG Supreme Court will maintain a database, accessible online, for students to view financial and campaign staff disclosures. Disclosures will be timestamped and expense receipts will be included. Students who believe that a candidate has violated the election rules through late or inaccurate disclosures are welcome to submit a complaint to the Court. 

The ESB and the SG Supreme Court vigilantly policed disclosure infraction in previous elections; but now, their watch is ended. It is time for students to be the watchers on the wall. 

Wes Dodson is the Student Government Supreme Court Chief Justice. He is a Plan II and business junior from Victoria, Texas.