Keeping SGA elections fair: new tech, short cycle, and confusion

Earlier this month, the Fort Hays State University’s Student Government Association held their annual elections to acquire the next President, Vice President and student senators through the university administered Tiger[Link]. The election had a turnout of 502 students and while the election results were relatively unsurprising, prior to election day a series of events brought heated debate and potentially influenced the results.

Concerns about the process centered around three areas: the new Tiger[Link] voting system, the late formation of the elections committee and the truncated election cycle.

Old System: New Tech

This year the SGA elections were conducted electronically, paper ballots were not provided, and as Tiger[Link], is used for the elections, fair and open elections were paramount to the elections process. The system that now hosts FHSU elections is Tiger[Link], a system that has been utilized by student organizations for two years on the FHSU campus.

“Tiger[Link] is actually a product called CollegiateLink that is purchased from a third party vendor. Elections are a template provided in the software, and all of the programming is done by the company. We simply fill in the template with campus information and provide a list of eligible voters. A list is created for each college of the student eligible to vote based upon SGA’s election criteria,” said Edie McCracken, director of Memorial Union and Beach/Schmidt PAC facilities coordinator.

McCracken said she tries to be a resource to any student group. The Memorial Union and Center for Student Involvement has a close working relationship with SGA due to the student fee funding and the SGA office being located in the Memorial Union.

The election was coordinated by the SGA Elections Committee, chaired by Sam Cooper, Hays junior, and while McCracken was not officially involved with the SGA committee, she needed help from them to create the online ballot.

“They provided the guidelines and candidate information so that the ballot could be created. If there are any questions or concerns about voting that get sent to me through my involvement with Tiger[Link], I forward those on to the Election Committee,” McCracken said.

To be able to vote for the candidates, each student must be eligible to do so.

“We request the eligibility lists through Computing and Telecommunications Center. They were involved in the implantation of Tiger[Link] two years ago because it is a secure sign-on through the campus system,” McCracken said.

The website used for voting is coded to make sure each student only votes one time.

“Tiger[Link] is accessed through a student’s campus user ID (their Tiger Tracks log-in). If a student is eligible to vote, they have a link on their homepage taking them to the ballot. Once a student votes, the link disappears completely from their Tiger[Link] page. We are able to verify that a username has voted. At no point, can we see an individual’s vote, but this does give us the ability to verify if a ballot was submitted should a student say they were unable to vote,” McCracken said.

Students were able to use their Tiger card to access the online voting.

“They [the Elections Committee] have at their ballot booths, they have a tiger scan card, so they scan their Tiger ID and it goes into Tiger[Link] and Tiger[Link] identifies whether the student is eligible to vote or not, and it also identifies whether the student has voted. So if they’ve already voted, it kicks them out of that system. It also lets them vote in their college and identifies what college they’re in,” said Keegan Nichols, assistant vice president for student affairs.

Students are only allowed to vote once through the college they are enrolled in.

“If there’s questions about how things come up, for example, I had a few people say there were some violations to the elections process, so I collect all those and give them to the elections committee and the elections committee meets and decides whether or not, according to their by-laws, to take it to student-faculty court,” Nichols said.

After the candidates submit their intent to run form, the SGA advisor ensures that each student is eligible to run.

“I also verify to make sure that each candidate is eligible to run. So I check grades and GPA. After we get the write-ins, we verify that the write-ins are eligible to be senators through GPA, credit hours, and make sure they’re in the right college,” Nichols said.

Same time: Same place

While the technology worked without issue, there were several procedural issues this year beginning with the late formation of the elections committee.

Sam Cooper, SGA Elections Committee Chair, said the elections committee decided that with his background as a political science major that he would be a good fit as chair.

“I am a student senator who is chair of the elections committee and serves as a member of the LPAC committee. I am hoping my experiences can be passed along to future student senators to help them in their endeavors,” Cooper said.

Article 10 Section 1003 L states, “The elections guidelines shall be produced, printed, and approved by the Elections committee no later than March 1.” However, as of the March 27 SGA meeting, the elections committee had still not been formed or met.

The basic elections guidelines, can be found in the SGA official by-laws under Article 10, Section 1004 A through H. This does not include any other rules or regulations for the candidates or elections details that the elections committee is to provide.

When asked for a copy of the guidelines, or even where to find them, Cooper declined to help.

Cooper repeatedly stated that the reason for the late formation of the Elections Committee was due to the five member rule. He said that the committee could not form because they did not have five student senators or executive staff members who are neither seeking re-election nor actively participating in a campaign of any potential Student Senator or Executive Staff member.

However, Article 10 Section 1001 states, “A quorum for the Elections Committee shall consist of one member over half of all members appointed to the committee.”

Nowhere in the SGA official by-laws does it state that each committee must have five members. Even if it did, according to Cooper, the elections committee had more than that.

“There were six of us on the committee. We were chosen on the basis of not being affiliated with any campaign and not campaigning for office ourselves,” Cooper said.

When asked for further comment, Cooper declined.

Nichols was asked about the five member rule, and she stated that it was not a part of the official by-laws.

“I don’t know where it is in the by-laws on the committee, I stayed out of that process. But I don’t think it’s in their by-laws,” Nichols said.

When asked about when the Elections Committee met, Nichols was unsure.

“They [the Elections Committee] met about some infractions, maybe a couple of times, but that’s all the meetings I know they had,” Nichols said.

According to an SGA press release, a few senators were upset about a current senator making sure the by-laws were being followed.

“This concern should have been brought to senate during open forum whether or not there was a committee formed at the time. Almost a month shouldn’t have gone by before it was brought to our attention. It is the job of senators to make sure our constitution and bylaws are being followed; that is part of the reason we are here. I don’t see much difference in a week to ten days. If you want it you’ll go out there, you’ll campaign, and you’ll get it. As student leaders we need to hold each other accountable,” Patrick Roscoe, Missouri City, Texas sophomore said.

In the 2013 SGA President and Vice President campaigns, the parties were given almost two weeks to promote themselves and their platform. Prior years had seen even longer election cycles and many students agree with the idea that more campaign time gives the student body more time to make the best decision about who to vote for, as many students are very busy during elections time.

Short Campaign: Unnecessary Influence

In regard to questions about and for the elections committee, even as a presidential candidate and current SGA president, Chris Roberts, Salina junior, was involved with the committee and other senators in telling them if they were allowed to speak to anyone about the committee.

In a Facebook message, on March 27, to Elliot Bicker, KAMS student, Sam Devore, KAMS student, Libby Lewis, KAMS student, Pratik Patel, KAMS student, and Alexa Melvin, KAMS student, a few of which were on the elections committee, said they were told by Roberts and/or Tevault to not talk to media or anyone about the elections committee, unless given approval otherwise.

“We’ve been told to refer to President Roberts or Vice President Tevault before talking to the media so I’ll email them now and see what they say. Then let you know if we can meet,” Patel said in one instance.

When asked for comment, Roberts declined.

Brandon Taylor, Greensburg junior, who ran against Roberts for the Presidency and currently serves as SGA treasurer, was also reached out to for other comment. He declined to comment on specific improprieties, instead he said Roberts and his running mate, Arin Powers “Did an excellent job this year and both will continue to work for the best interest of students.”

Winning Seats: Counting Votes

After the elections closed on April 10, Nichols and McCracken took over the duty of counting and checking the votes before giving them to Cooper to present at the SGA meeting that evening.

“Edie [McCracken] and I counted the votes, and so as we were doing it, we actually wrote out some notes about it. It’s not anything official, it’s just how we got the vote, or counted the votes, what we did, how we double checked it. We thought it would be just good for future reference for people, so it’s more of just some bullet points,” Nichols said.

In the notes, the “guidelines” are stated as, “To be eligible to vote, students must have a minimum of 12 credit hours (undergraduate) or 9 credit hours (graduate) and have at least one hour on campus.”

McCracken and Nichols both stated that there were only three people who have access to the online voting results. Nichols added that they were the only people with the code and administrative access to those results online. Those three people are Keegan Nichols, Edie McCracken, and Vince Bowhay. Bowhay is the assistant director of the memorial union and the Tiger[Link] administrator, according to McCracken.

After being contacted in regard to the elections results on Tiger[Link], which he is the administrator of, Bowhay kept directing any results questions to Nichols, even after being told, “I spoke with her [Nichols], and the CTC Center, and they both said you had access to election numbers and results, and the CTC said I should talk to you about the Tiger[Link] results.”

“You will want to check with Dr. Keegan Nichols, Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs, the SGA Advisor,” Bowhay said, even though he had the administrative access or rights to those online results and was qualified to answer any questions regarding Tiger[Link].

After viewing the elections results, there were some questions about the write-in candidates; how many votes does someone need to be elected to a senate position?

“The system automatically calculates the people on the ballot and write-ins are calculated by hand. It is not in the constitution nor the by-laws, election section, that specifies the number of votes each senator needs to be elected,” Nichols said.

Therefore, a senator could be given a senate seat with only one official vote cast for them, as long as they meet the criteria given, in order to run or be elected.

Most write-in candidates were not given a senate seat, as their name was voted upon as a joke, or not seriously.

“We contacted all of the individuals who were written in as candidates to determine whether their name was written in as a serious candidate. Sometimes, people are written in by friends as a joke so we wanted to verify with those students. Those who said that they were not interested in a seat, were eliminated as candidates. By my count, there were 26 write-in candidates. Of those, 7 have a seat,” Cooper said.

Through the campaign, SGA vice-presidential candidate, Arin Powers, said she enjoyed the experience.

“I had a lot of fun throughout this whole experience and I’m very thankful for all of the support we received. I really look forward to continuing with SGA and serving the students as their Vice President. The other presidential ticket had a good campaign and as I said at the debate I have the utmost respect for them both,” Powers said.

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