The annual controversies of student body elections season are beginning a little early this year - perhaps earlier than the members of one student body presidential campaign would have liked.
The Elections Board ruled unanimously Monday to dismiss a complaint filed by senior Bharath Parthasarathy on behalf of junior Eric Johnson's SBP campaign. He alleged that SBP candidate Annie Peirce violated elections rules by meeting with several student groups before the campaign period officially begins in January.
A hearing was held Sunday evening to consider the complaint, which argued that Peirce violated Title VI, Article VII, Section 171 (A) (4) of the Student Code by visiting student groups to publicize a future meeting and to gather information about campus issues.
Elections Board Chairman Jeremy Tuchmayer ruled in favor of Peirce on a similar argument brought by the Johnson campaign on Friday, but Parthasarathy, senior adviser to Johnson's campaign, amended his complaint and brought it to the full board.
This section of the code deals with the use of surveys, which states that, "Surveys can be used prior to the posting of publicity, but under no circumstances is the potential candidate's name or office sought to be on the survey."
Members of the Johnson campaign said Peirce's information-gathering techniques constituted a "verbal survey" and thus violated the code. "We feel a survey, verbalized, is the same as putting your name and issues out there," Parthasarathy said. "All we're looking to do is know where the lines are drawn."
Students are prohibited from campaigning or issuing publicity until the mandatory meeting in January at which each candidate officially declares his or her intent to run.
But Peirce said that her actions in no way constituted campaigning or surveying, and that she was merely trying to gather information. "As a matter of violating code, I have not," she said. "I have not conducted any survey, written or verbal, and there is nothing related to a survey in giving students the chance to tell me what they want from student government."
Peirce visited student groups in the last few weeks, where she said she identified herself, explained that she plans to run for SBP and spoke briefly about a meeting she plans to hold in early December so students can come to her and discuss important issues.
"Research for campaigns is permissible - my research, although I have not yet gathered any, is not campaigning," Peirce said.
In its ruling, the seven-member Elections Board unanimously upheld Peirce's contention that her actions did not constitute a survey and thus did not violate the Student Code.
The ruling also questioned the Johnson campaign's interpretation that section 171 (A) (4) of the code included verbal surveys as well as written and Internet-based questionnaires.
Despite the dismissal of his complaint, Johnson said he thought the hearing had been helpful in clearing up some of these vague areas in the code.
"We just wanted to ensure a fair elections season by clarifying some of the ambiguities in the code," he said.
Peirce also said she welcomed the clarification to make it known that her information-gathering strategies are within the rules. She said, "People are always saying student government doesn't do enough and doesn't reach out, so it was hurtful that, upon trying to do that, people complained about it."
The University Editor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.