A new spring semester brings a new round of elections for current members and hopeful candidates of Baylor’s student government. Each election process seems to be the same: Candidates submit their applications and are reminded to comply with the electoral code, which sets general rules about campaigning policies.
Yet while the election process remains consistent, the electoral code’s rules and meaning manages to shift each year with the changing faces of student government members.
Although the electoral code was undoubtedly written with the intent to create uniformity and ethical standards among candidates, it was left with gaping holes of ambiguity concerning issues such as campaign workers, coalition campaigning and the determination of a fitting sanction for a given violation. However, the code provides an interpreter for this ambiguity in the form of the electoral commission, which was formed to ensure that candidates’ campaigns are conducted in an upright manner.
The code states in section 5.3.1; “Any breach of the electoral code or additional rules, which the electoral commission deems necessary, may subject the candidate to sanctions, up to and including disqualification. The electoral commission will reserve the right to use its discretion in the interpretation of this code.”
This short passage gives the commission the liberty to interpret any campaign issues that may not be specifically covered in the code itself, and this free interpretation has created an obvious breach of understanding between candidates and the electoral commission. Because there is no explicit definition of a campaign worker, which would define the responsibilities and limitations of such workers, candidates are left to form their own understanding with the hope that the commission shares the same view. If this isn’t gamble enough, candidates are not even given the benefit of following past precedent since each year a new electoral commission enters with a different interpretation of the code. This interpretation may be based on the personal goals or character of the electoral commissioner and the rest of the commission, which can quickly go awry based on the ethical values of the commission. In this sense, the code’s original intent to ensure fair elections has been misshapen into a tool of possible favoritism and inequality.
Currently there is nothing to ensure that the members of the electoral commission will not interpret the ambiguous code in order to benefit their desired candidates, not even the appellate Student Court, for the code states that the commission holds the right to interpret the code as necessary.
Based on this risk, as well as past and potentially future experiences of miscommunication and blatant inconsistencies of interpretation, the proposals to amend ambiguous sections of the electoral code will once again be presented today at the Student Senate meeting. But the revisions might not come fast enough for this year’s elections.
The proposed revisions were first brought to the senate table in November, a delayed response to a longstanding issue. However, the bill was pushed aside due to senators who are hesitant to make such a “sudden” and extensive change to an already established code. But the issue itself isn’t sudden since incidents of interpretations have significantly affected the outcome of elections as recently as last year.
By tabling the proposed bill in November, Student Senate demonstrated a fear of making a positive change on future elections. It is now high time that the senators rise up to their responsibility as representatives of the student body and tackle the issue of miscommunication and the possible threat of fixed elections before the clock stops.