Editorial: MSA, BEC need to institute election reform

Now that the election is over, it’s time to learn from this fiasco.

After an election season mired in controversy, this year’s Missouri Students Association presidential election have finally drawn to a close.

The election summarized in one word? Fiasco.

Numerous violations and electoral complications plagued this election, and in the aftermath, one thing is abundantly clear: MSA and the Board of Elections Commissioners urgently need to institute election reform.

The BEC’ problematic streak began with the late passing of the BEC Handbook, which outlines the rules and procedures for MSA elections. BEC chairwoman Emma Henderson passed the handbook on Sept. 23, but Senate had to suspend the rules to make it happen. Because she didn’t present the changes at the first full senate of the year, the changes to the handbook skipped over Operations Committee entirely and went straight to full Senate to be presented.

The MSA bylaws state that “the BEC shall present the presidential handbook to full Senate during the first full Senate meeting of the Fall Semester.” But Henderson wasn’t even in attendance when the changes were presented and the “presentation” was a projection of the handbook’s cover page that lasted less than a minute. The debacle forced Senate to pass the handbook in one meeting rather than two, which is against its own bylaws.

The questionable passage of the handbook foreshadowed the farce of an election that was to come.

Unlike last year, this year’s election saw several violations to the (late) BEC handbook. The handling of the violations, both in procedure and transparency, was questionable to say the least.

It started Nov. 17, when the BEC commissioners issued major infractions to the Ejaz/Parrie and Gomez/Hanner slates.

The Ejaz/Parrie slate received their major infraction for arriving at their polling location four hours before they had permission to be there, and the Gomez/Hanner slate received theirs for a mass notification from the Pocket Points app, which violates the BEC’s mass-email policy.

Because the punishment for a major infraction is a three-day suspension of campaigning, more time than was left in the election, both slates were told at this point that they would have to end their campaigning for the rest of the election.

The next day, Henderson changed her mind about the initial ruling. The BEC offered a sanction to both slates that would allow the slates to continue campaigning if they paid a $300 fine for the infractions, which is normally the punishment for three minor infractions. This way, both slates could continue to campaign until the end of the election.

This decision was problematic for a variety of reasons. It began a debate regarding Henderson’s possible impeachment because of numerous violations of the BEC Handbook and MSA bylaws, which eventually failed.

But another issue with the BEC’s handling of the violations is the false equivalency between the infractions given to the Ejaz/Parrie and Gomez/Hanner slates. The BEC commissioners treated the two violations equally, when they clearly are anything but.

Ejaz/Parrie’s violation garnered them an extra four hours of in-person campaigning. Yes, it was a violation and the slate should have been held accountable. But this violation doesn’t seem at all comparable to Gomez/Hanner’s violation involving Pocket Points. As of Dec. 1, over 15,000 MU students have downloaded the application. In Ejaz/Parrie’s four hours of campaigning, could they really have reached nearly as many students? It’s a stretch to think this could be the case.

In addition to the major infraction for the Pocket Points advertisement, Gomez/Hanner also received a minor infraction for mass text messages sent by campaign manager Natalie Edelstein that urged friends to vote for the slate.

Ejaz/Parrie petitioned to have the BEC reassess their decision and charge a major infraction for the text messages. However, the petition was declined on the grounds that Edelstein was not a formal member of the slate and there was “insufficient evidence to show either Gomez or Hanner had actual knowledge of the texts.”

It’s exceptionally naive to think that Gomez/Hanner had no actual knowledge of the texts, but this isn’t the larger issue. The problem here is that official campaign managers are not officially a part of the slate, which makes no sense and creates a glaring vulnerability when it comes to campaign violations.

The texts sent by Edelstein were on behalf of the campaign. This wasn’t a random student urging her friends to vote for her favorite slate; it was a slate’s official campaign manager violating the mass-email rule. The BEC defines a mass email as an email that delivers essentially the same note to more than one recipient — which is exactly what the text messages were.

In the next election, the BEC ought to formally recognize campaign managers and staffers in association with the slates. With this recognition, managers and staffers can be held accountable for violations committed on behalf of the campaign, rather than in the current system where candidates can claim ignorance and remove themselves from any wrongdoing.

Going forward, we find ourselves in a precarious position with our new leadership. Decisions on the violations have left us feeling that the BEC determined the outcome of the election far more than the students themselves did.

Where do we go from here? In the coming months, the controversy and widespread frustration with the election needs to translate into definitive reform — on the part of the executive and legislative branches of MSA, as well as the BEC.

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