This year’s Student Association executive election was a mess. It didn’t need to be.
The election devolved into battles between the Voice of Change ticket, the Standing for Every Student ticket and the Board of Elections. The tickets accused each other of intimidation and collusion, students bickered and issued threats over social media and Jake Swick, Board of Elections member and SA senator, is charged with leaking information to the Voice of Change ticket.
The SA Supreme Court was called upon to deal with the crisis, which it did during two hearings Tuesday. The winner of the elections — the Voice of Change ticket headed by Nathan Lupstein — has now been decided and it appears the dust is settling.
Here’s what the Editorial Board learned from the experience.
1. SA Supreme Court hearing practices need to be reviewed
The Editorial Board believes the SA Supreme Court violated the Open Meetings Act during its hearings Tuesday.
The hearings should have been as public as possible, but some students were kept out of the first hearing, when the Voice of Change fought its disqualification.
The hearings, held in the Holmes Student Center, Room 306, attracted about 50 observers. Thirty or so observers and two Northern Star journalists were able to squeeze into the room, but another 20 people were told to wait in the hallway outside as the room was at capacity.
The students in the hall attempted to listen to the proceedings for about 15 minutes, at which point the door to the room was closed and it was impossible to hear what was happening. SA senators, two Northern Star journalists and interested community members were left outside and without a way to keep track of the hearing. In fact, since the court said no recording could be made and no electronic devices used during the hearing, everyone except those in Room 306 has been forced into the dark in regard to the first hearing.
The Open Meetings act requires meetings to be held in a location that will accommodate the public. The SA Supreme Court should have recognized the hearings would generate a crowd since the election had become so heated. A larger room should have been reserved or, at the least, the venue should have been switched to accommodate the crowd as soon as the justices and other SA leaders saw community members were being kept out.
The operations of the SA Supreme Court need to be reviewed to ensure this never happens again. The hearings dealt with matters of grave importance and everyone should have been afforded the opportunity to listen. It’s an easy fix: Regulations can be changed to require the justices to reserve a room capable of holding a crowd of 50 or more people and, if a larger crowd develops, the justices should be required to seek suitable accommodation.
While it is understandable the justices wanted to prevent distractions, there is no reason a recording of the hearings could not be made and there is certainly no reason the people present should have been prevented from listening.
2. SA officials must do more to be transparent about their conflicts of interest
Three of the five Board of Elections members are fraternity brothers with Voice of Change ticket members and, in total, four of the five are involved in Greek life.
Board member Swick, who faces charges of leaking information to the Voice of Change, is in the Sigma Nu fraternity with Lupstein, and the two serve on the Campus Activities Board together, according to CAB’s website.
Board members James Forman and Greg Lezon are in the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity with Marc Calvey, Voice of Change treasurer. In fact, Forman and Lezon answer to Calvey in their fraternity since Calvey is their vice president, according to the chapter’s websites.
SA Justice Jawaun Sutton belongs to Alpha Phi Alpha, the same fraternity as Reggie Bates, Voice of Change vice president.
Sutton and SA Justice James Zanayed, who is in the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity, said they disclosed their Greek affiliation to the SA Supreme Court and the justices decided Zanayed and Sutton would not be biased and did not need to recuse themselves from the hearings. Sutton said he does not have a relationship with Bates and is not active in Alpha Phi Alpha at NIU.
All of these potential conflicts of interest should have been disclosed to the public. Zanayed and Sutton acted appropriately in informing their fellow justices of potential conflicts, but it is unacceptable that the public was not made aware of those relationships and the conflicts of interest on the Board of Elections.
If a member of the SA is faced with a conflict of interest, the SA must reach out to all students — since everyone is a potential voter — through news releases to inform them of that conflict. Those with serious conflicts should be recused.
3. SA needs more diversity
There’s nothing wrong with Greek involvement in the SA; in fact, it shows Greeks are active in student leadership, which is admirable. But, there should be more diversity in the ranks of the SA.
The Editorial Board has pushed for this by encouraging the SA to advertise its elections more and to recruit students from a variety of backgrounds to run for leadership positions. As the Editorial Board noted March 19, the SA only posted once about a meeting that was mandatory for those who wished to run in the executive election. That post didn’t come until the day of the meeting.
Students will not know about the work the SA does and how they can be involved in that work unless current student leaders reach out and recruit them. The SA is hurting the entire student body and limiting diversity by failing to do so.
4. Senate must be more proactive
The SA Senate rushed in passing online voting in early March without creating bylaws to reflect the change in systems.
This led to the Voice of Change ticket being able to set up makeshift polling stations. Campaigners urged students to vote for the Voice of Change and encouraged them to vote at laptops that sat alongside Voice of Change paraphernalia.
The SA Supreme Court ruled this was not intimidation and Election Commissioner David White OK’d the tactic prior to the start of voting, but the Editorial Board thinks this form of campaigning violated the spirit of SA regulations that prevent students from campaigning near polling places. That could have been avoided if the SA had created regulations that reflected the changes in voting technology.
SA Senate Speaker Dillon Domke released a statement Wednesday informing the community the Senate “will be working tirelessly over the coming weeks” to analyze the SA’s bylaws and constitution, review election rules and restore the community’s trust in student government.
The Editorial Board applauds the Senate’s actions, but the senators need to be more active in preventing these problems.
5. Students must fight for their voice
Only 2,474 of NIU’s 19,000 students voted even though online voting made it easier than ever to cast a ballot in SA elections.
That’s a 126-person drop from the 2,600 students who voted in spring 2014. That’s 16,526 students who did not make their voice heard in this election.
SA elections are not trivial. The SA commands $7 million in student fees and allocates that money to student groups. The SA works with officials like NIU President Doug Baker and the Board of Trustees to make changes on campus.
These candidates deserve the scrutiny of voters; they are much too powerful to win due to their popularity or to get your vote because you didn’t feel like looking up their stances and campaign promises.
Next year, read the campaign literature. Talk to the candidates. Attend the debate. Be responsible and realize you play a role in a Democracy that depends on voters to hold their politicians accountable. Vote.