By: Tatum Hunter ~Editor-in-Chief~
After the disqualification of two candidates and the election of 11 write-ins in last week’s Student Government Association (SGA) Senate election, the Board of Elections (BOE) responded to claims that its actions were unfair.
The Newswire reported on Nov. 11 that sophomore candidates and incumbent Senators Zeina Farhat and Shelby Lauter were disqualified due to their failure to turn in documentation of their campaign spending to the BOE on time. Neither Farhat nor Lauter spent any money campaigning.
Farhat said she believed the disqualifications were unfair and some of the write-in candidates are underqualified.
“You’re going to let people who didn’t go to a Senate meeting have a couple extra weeks to get their verification forms then give someone who forgot to turn in their budget an hour extra? Especially when there’s absolutely no interest in SGA anymore as an organization on campus,” Farhat said.
The disqualifications were done in accordance with BOE code, assistant director of student involvement Molly Dugan said.
“It was painful for us to have to disqualify candidates, but we have to follow our rules,” Dugan said.
BOE chair Stephanie Kuruvilla said that the election of write-in candidates is nothing new, especially when there is a gap between the number of available Senate seats and the number of candidates on the ballot. However, this year did mark an increase in write-in elects.
Kuruvilla said the BOE code makes the election process “more challenging” for write-in candidates. Each year there is a post-election review of write-ins, in which they must meet GPA and conduct requirements, report their campaign activity and spending and share why they want to serve on Senate.
Write-in candidates cannot be elected by one vote but must receive a “substantial” number of votes, according to Kuruvilla. The number depends on how many votes are cast overall and how many votes the candidates on the ballot receive.
Write-in elect and incumbent Senator Jonathan Pickman said that write-in candidates should not be held to the same procedural requirements as regular candidates.
“What the write-in candidate serves to do is show that a candidate is either wildly popular or there’s not enough people running. So, while gaining the same office, the write-in candidate has a different role in campaigning and shouldn’t necessarily be held to the same standards,” Pickman said.
Write-in positions allow students to vote for the people they see naturally assuming various leadership positions on campus, according to write-in elect Johnese Sherron.
“I didn’t write myself in, which surprised me, because I didn’t know they were going to write me in. I believe that it’s based off of my leadership skills and the way I present myself,” Sherron said.
In response to concerns about the qualifications of the write-ins, Kuruvilla said that they are unwarranted.
“We don’t consider one person higher than another in terms of Senate. (Previous Senate experience) does not make them more qualified to serve than write-in candidates,” Kuruvilla said.
“(Lack of experience) is a valid concern but it’s not insurmountable,” Pickman said. “SGA has great advisors, and there are codes and systems that guide the process. But above all, it’s a popular election. The students decide.”
Write-in elect Dan Celani has no prior Senate experience, but he said he’s not concerned about his ability to serve.
“Yes, it’s a large budget, but I have multiple leadership roles on campus. I’m an economics and accounting major. We’re taught how to run a business, which is essentially what SGA does. We all really want to make Xavier a better place for everyone,” Celani said.
Voter turnout dropped after Senate voted to change the election cycle to make terms coincide with the calendar year instead of the academic year, but Kuruvilla said low turnout is likely due to other factors.
“There’s been a decline in interest in Senate over the past several years. We’re doing good if we can get one extra candidate on the ballot. So that’s something we’re looking at — how can we create more interest and involvement?” Kuruvilla said. “Blaming it on the fall cycle is not fair at this point.”
The BOE and the Office of Student Involvement are looking for ways to make the election process “less cumbersome” for candidates, Dugan said.
“It’s difficult to get students, especially women, to express interest in positions that they have to be elected to. Because then if you don’t get it, there’s the shame of not getting it,” she said.
The BOE should be held responsible for the lack of interest in SGA, according to Celani, who mounted a write-in campaign under the acronym DMJ during this year’s SGA executive election. Celani was disqualified from that race for multiple BOE code infractions.
“The fact that some people haven’t realized some of the shortfalls of the code until something bad happens is a problem. The code just deters people from running,” Celani said. “I talked to about 1500 to 2000 students (during the executive campaign), and not one of them knew that elections were going on.”