Elections Commission comes under scrutiny for handling of SG presidential debate questions

Last week, the Miami Hurricane reported that it would investigate the manner in which last week’s Student Government [SG] Presidential Debate was conducted in order to determine whether any rules or regulations were violated by the Elections Commission.
As of press time, there had been no formal complaints filed against the Elections Commission for the incident that occurred at the debate last Wednesday night in the Rathskeller in which the moderator of the event and the chair of the Elections Commission decided to ask one final question after it had been determined that the debate had concluded.
The question, referring to the Honor Council, was considered by many to be biased in favor of Robert Castro, who is currently the vice-president of the Honor Council.
“We have looked into the issue and have reviewed videotaped footage of the debate and have determined that there was no tampering of the questions,” Mike Johnston, SG president, said. “The primary problem that occurred was that the candidates answered the questions more quickly than anticipated.”
Members of the Commission say they consciously conduct the elections and campaigning process in a professional and unbiased manner.
“Once we step into anything that has to do with elections, we turn off the friendship button and we interact strictly as an Elections Commission,” said Jennifer Rodriguez, sophomore and elections commissioner. “We know how to separate our personal lives from our professional ones – we have to, especially because most of us have worked closely with several of the candidates in the past.”
Despite the controversy, some students believe that the question was fair and represented an aspect of UM academics of which all of the candidates should have been knowledgeable.
“The question asked at the debate was fair and broad enough that each one of the candidates could answer it, regardless of their position on the Honor Council,” Arnab Basu, sophomore, said. “The honor code is an intricate part of this university, and all students and student leaders should be aware of it.
“If any candidate running for president of Student Government is not familiar with the honor code at UM, then I will definitely not be voting for that individual.”
The Elections Commission is a student-run volunteer group that organizes, implements and plans all aspects of SG elections. However, Elections Commission members and officers do not have any access to votes because the system is computerized through EASY. Without an Elections Commission, there would be no elections.
According to Renee Dickens-Callan, advisor to the Elections Commission and director of Student Activities and Leadership Programs, she believes the students working with the Elections Commission have effectively conducted this year’s elections.
“We have very dedicated and caring members who volunteer their time to help run the election process,” Callan said. “When they are constantly questioned and attacked it is hard to convince them to stay on another year.”
“It’s been hard for the Elections Commission this year because we have a lack of manpower; this is a volunteer-based group,” Rodriguez said. “All of our members and officers are freshmen and sophomores.”
“There are a few people who complain about how the Elections Commission is run, but when it comes down to it, these people don’t want to get involved,” Riesgo said. “We do the best we can with the resources that we have.”
Callan says that, although SG is responsible for recruiting new members to the Elections Commission, each year she helps in the recruitment process by making flyers available at all resource fairs and on bulletin boards in the Office of Student Activities.
“Unfortunately, not a lot of people apply, and some of the committee members do not stay,” Callan said.
According to Johnston, steps are being taken to ensure that a similar controversy, such as the one that occurred at the Presidential Debate, does not repeat itself.
“We are currently working on a proposal that states that a member of the Elections Commission cannot moderate a Student Government presidential debate,” Johnston said. “We are continually revising codes and adding new ones as the need arises.”
“This has been a learning experience,” Riesgo said. “I really hope that this doesn’t affect people going out and voting.”
All of the questions asked at the presidential debate are public record and any request to view them should be directed to the Office of Student Activities at 305-284-6399.

Jorge Arauz can be contacted at xxarauzxx@yahoo.com