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Sjogren, Hamilton win election

Filled with problems and plagued by low turnout, student government elections ended last week after two days of voting. Karl Sjogren and Andrea Hamilton won the election for student body president and vice-president, defeating each of the two other tickets by margins of over 300 votes. Problems in the process, however, bring these results into question.

Last Monday and Tuesday, 1287 students — about 16 percent of the eligible student body — participated in elections. Among these students, 621 voted for Sjogren, a junior in the social and decision sciences and human-computer interaction programs, and Hamilton, a junior in the bachelor of humanities and arts program.

“When we did get a great majority of votes ... [we felt] like we had a bit of a mandate even if most of the campus [had not] voted,” Hamilton said. Sjogren and Hamilton said that they were not happy with the voter turnout, but they were happy with the results.

Kirk Higgins, a junior mathematical sciences major, won the race for student body vice-president for finance, with over 55 percent of votes cast.

This year’s turnout is a throwback to the turnout of 2003 and is a decrease from the peak participations of 2004 and 2005. In 2003, 1249 students voted, while in 2004 and 2005, over 2100 students went to the polls.

“You can’t always expect elections to be phenomenal, and it’s sort of fine that they weren’t phenomenal,” Hamilton said. “So basically, this was an average year.”

Daniel Papasian, a senior political science major and Senate’s chief technical officer, feels voter turnout is not easily interpreted.

“Is this a regression to the mean or a decrease in turnout? I don’t really know,” he said. “But students seem more apathetic.”

In addition to low turnout, two problems came up in the middle of the voting period. First, the system only listed students who pay the student activities fee and have over 35 units of coursework as registered voters. Election rules recognize all students who pay the student activities fee and have over 19 units of coursework as voters, so until noon last Tuesday, about 70 students were incorrectly unable to vote.

Elections officials fixed the problem after one student communicated his inability to vote. They e-mailed the affected students at noon last Tuesday, and all but five voted. In light of this, the Elections Board decided that if the margin between the two top tickets was within five votes, the results would be invalidated.

Second, Justin Berka was the first student since the advent of the online voting system to run for both student body president and Student Senate. The online system automatically associated Kelly Duncan, his running mate, with his Senate nomination. Thus, when students voted for Berka for Senate, they automatically cast a vote for Duncan as well. The Elections Board quickly fixed this issue.

“That was not that big a deal,” said Franklin Williams, a senior social and decision sciences major and chair of the Elections Board. “There weren’t any problems other than the ones online, and those [had] not been dealt with before.” Williams commended the Elections Board for fixing problems not found in previous years.

The student government elections process faced more problems than those the Elections Board fixed last week. Before elections began, candidates missed petition deadlines, and the board pushed back the platform deadlines. Williams said the board did not feel that these problems justified an invalidation of the results.

The board also considered the breach of another rule in March. Student Senate did not confirm an Elections Board until March 23, almost a month after the February deadline set by elections rules.

“The late confirmation date ... triggered a series of problems. We were put in a position where we had to either not give sufficient notice or have elections in May,” Papasian said. “A lot of issues come up if we have elections after May 1.”

Election rules state that there must be at least 30 days between the confirmation of the board and elections.

Current Student Body President Tom Sabram, a senior majoring in chemical engineering, believes that the scarce amount of campaigning also caused problems.

“Had I not actually been in student government, I don’t think I could [have told] you who was running,” Sabram said. He also felt the candidates could have taken advantage of the huge crowds at Carnival to campaign and get their messages out.

The list of new Senators has not been finalized. Over 40 write-in candidates are eligible to enter Senate, and they will be screened by Senate over the next few weeks.

Student Senate ratified the election results last Thursday, and the Graduate Student Assembly will vote on result ratification this Wednesday.

Next year, Sjogren and Hamilton hope to improve the image of student government in general. Sjogren aims to increase visibility and accountability of student leadership.

“The problem is that when [students] think of student government, they don’t think of that as an outlet for any sort of interest,” Sjogren said. “When students see student government as a functional entity, they’ll want to be a part of it.”