Uncertainty Threatens UA Elections

With the issues of dining reform, GIR overhaul, and severe budget cuts on the horizon, more than ever the Undergraduate Association requires strong student leaders that have the confidence of the student body and the respect of the administrators they will engage.

The only way to ensure that the UA’s executive officers are speaking on behalf of the student body is through a fair, transparent, and unbiased election process.

For this reason, it is of the utmost importance that the current leaders of the UA take steps to ensure that the upcoming elections are free of taint or even the perception of impropriety.

However, poorly written policies and holes in the UA’s governing documents have left the process vulnerable and have made it particularly difficult to resolve charges of conflict of interest by the very people charged with running the process—regardless of whether they are valid or specious. We would like to recommend some changes to ensure that the process remains reliable.

According to the UA Constitution, elections are planned, supervised, and executed by an independent Elections Commission (ElectComm) guided by an Elections Code. The Elections Commission, led by the Commissioner, also consists of a Technical Coordinator—whose responsibility it is to execute the online voting system—and a number of other members responsible for publicity and enforcing elections rules.

This year—though it runs counter to the traditional independence of the Commission—the Technical Coordinator, Evan Broder ’10, was simultaneously appointed to ElectComm and to the UA Exec position of Chief of Information Technology (CIT). Though this act in and of itself does not explicitly violate any specific clause of the UA’s governing documents, it threatens to infringe on the separation of powers among the Association’s branches.

This concern is doubled in this case since the CIT is responsible to the UA Vice President, himself a candidate in this upcoming election.

Upon receiving a complaint from a third party regarding the potential for conflict of interest from this arraignment, the Elections Commissioner attempted to address the matter; however, the UA codes in this situation are decidedly vague. There is no clear protocol for addressing conflict of interest disputes amongst commissioners and there is also no statute governing the removal of members of ElectComm.

Because of the ambiguity of the UA’s governing documents and given that Mr. Broder initially refused to step down, the situation quickly deteriorated—threatening to disrupt the election schedule. In the process of attempting to address the situation, members of the UA Exec were forced to step in to mediate and to help formulate contingency measures.

After a prolonged dispute, Mr. Broder eventually proffered his resignation in a strongly worded message, but the conflict has illustrated a significant weakness in how the UA organizes and governs its own elections. We encourage the UA Senate to implement the following reforms to help shield the process from such issues in future years:

First, the UA should explicitly charge its Judicial Board (JudBoard) with adjudicating claims of conflict of interest and/or dereliction of duty on the part of members of the Election Commission. JudBoard should also be empowered to censure or remove them.

Second, sitting members of the UA Executive Committee and the Principal Officers of the Senate should be enjoined from sitting on the Election Commission.

Third, the Senate should formalize the relationships between the Election Commission and the other branches of the UA such as Exec. It should be made clear that while ElectComm is responsible to the UA as a whole for running a reliable election and that regular reports to the President should be commonplace, the Elections Commission is not subject to Executive authority and is in fact an independent entity.

Fourth, a provision should be made to have the code that runs the UA elections audited on a regular basis by a disinterested third-party—designated by the Senate—to ensure that it is written in a fair and secure manner.

By more clearly defining the procedure for dealing with potential conflicts of interest and by making the separation of authority in these situations explicit, the UA can more readily combat both the overt and the subtle biases that have the potential to taint future elections.