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Monday, December 22, 2014

BEC handbook passed after talks of reform, but under time constraints

A number of amendments to the handbook seek to deregulate the MSA presidential election and promote “more competition,” BEC chairman Derek Chung said.

After weeks of discussion, the Missouri Students Association Senate passed a new presidential election handbook during its last session of the 2013-2014 academic year.

The new handbook seeks to foster “more competition” through fewer regulations, Board of Elections Commissioners chairman Derek Chung said.

Chung discussed several potential changes to the presidential election process with Garrett Poorman, junior and former Tigers Advancing Political Participation president, who had made several proposals to Chung regarding the handbook.

Creating more transparency

One major proposal made by Poorman sought to improve transparency in the election by making all campaign expenditures public and requiring all election forms to be published to MSA’s website within three days of their filing.

“Currently, there is nothing to address how (the slates) spend their money,” Poorman said. “I think students should be able to see that, especially when students donate to a lot of these slates. At least the BEC should have a record of (the spending) so that if an issue with the auxiliaries came up, the BEC can identify that and enforce the rules.”

Chung agreed to a part of Poorman’s proposal, and changed the “Acknowledgement of Sponsorships” form to include the campaign’s expenditures.

However, Chung said online publication of finance information might be more challenging.

“We’ve been having a lot of trouble with technology,” he said. “The way we poll and my access to the website may cause some issues, but it’s not a bad idea.”

Eliminating bias from the polls

Poorman hoped for another drastic reform of the election by limiting the number of polling locations slates are allowed to use from five to two.

He said this would allow the BEC to better monitor the polling locations.

A more ideal reform, Poorman said, would see the BEC run polling locations, instead of the slates themselves.

After discussing the changes with Chung, however, Poorman learned that the BEC might not have the resources necessary to facilitate the operation of its own polls.

If slates run their own polls, Poorman said, they should not provide any food, beverage or other incentives to students who vote, in order to eliminate any bias in the voting process.

“I think if you are going to have candidates run the polling locations where they are promoting themselves, there shouldn’t be a quid pro quo scenario,” Poorman said.

However, Chung said because such restrictions could potentially limit competition among the candidates and decrease students’ participation in the election, Poorman’s proposals regarding polling locations will not see light in the 2014 handbook.

“I believe it is in the nature of competition to allow up to five (polling locations),” Chung said. “But it’s up to the slate if it wants to fill those … I also believe that if the students’ passions are decreased by regulations of the election, that may do more harm than good than any stricter regulation would.”

Donations for Endorsements

Another major change Poorman proposed to Chung was forbidding the exchange of philanthropic donations for the endorsement of a slate.

MSA President Mason Schara and Vice President Kelsey Haberberger’s 2013 campaign stirred controversy when the slate promised to make a philanthropic donation for the Greek chapter with the most tweets about the slate.

“I think making a donation is great, … but there shouldn’t be strings attached to that, like, ‘we’ll give money to your charitable organization if you endorse us on Twitter,’” Poorman said. “This change would give clarity to one of last year’s gray areas by defining the practice as strictly off-limits.”

Chung he will not include this change in the handbook, however, because he believes practices such as the Twitter contest was not unethical, and that such a regulation would actually hurt the “competition” of the election.

“There is a section of the handbook that limits ‘inhibiting the free participation of a student in the election process … I believe this is an ironclad part of the handbook when it comes to these issues,” Chung said. “Certain endorsements and promotions are OK, as long as they don’t inhibit the free participation of students in the election process.”

Looking ahead

Although not all of his changes were accepted by the BEC, Poorman said he hopes to have further discussions with members of MSA regarding the reforms he would like to see in the election process.

“Unfortunately, time ran short for making changes through Senate, but my hope is that discussions will occur in the fall about changes that can still be made to ensure a smooth and fair election for the student body this year,” Poorman wrote in an email.

The official filing date for hopeful MSA presidential candidates is Oct. 9.

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