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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Nuanced rules needed for complex campaigns

Published: May 2, 2008
Section: Opinions

The efficiency of the Union Judiciary will be tested this Saturday when it hears the suit of Senator-at-Large Andrew Brooks ’09 against Chief of Elections Nelson Rutrick ’09 for his alleged failure to enforce campaign requirements and rules regarding libel and slander. Even though Noam Shuster ’11 and Brook’s co-campaigner Justin Sulsky ’09 were the official winners of the April election, Brooks said he does not believe that Rutrick properly handled requests to disqualify Shuster from the election. Since many of Brooks’s allegations are based on what he heard from various students and appears to be a “he said, she said” situation, this will prove to be a challenging case for the UJ.

However, this case may not have arose in the first place if the election rules set by the Student Union were nuanced enough to handle a more complicated situation such as this one. The unspecific nature of the rules has allowed for them to be applied to various actions, from logistical errors to more serious violations that bring the fairness of the election into question.

No matter the violation, the candidate receives a notation next to his or her name on the ballot, stating only that they had violated election rules, without specifying which rule(s) in particular. In the Spring 2006 election for Senator-at-Large, candidate Jamie Ansorge ’09, received such a notation on the ballot, after it was found that one of his supporters posted campaign fliers using a staple gun, a non-Union approved campaign material.

More recently, Rutrick received the same notation on the ballot after election commissioners deemed an e-mail he had sent to club leaders asking for the endorsement as ‘libelous.’ When asked if this personal incident influenced his treatment of requests to disqualify Shuster, Rutrick said, “it’s partly true—I particularly noticed that elections were flawed when something I considered flawed happened to me, when I was punished for something that I wasn’t able to argue.” Rutrick’s experience with how the Union handles campaign violations has lead him to adopt a more lenient attitude in the position of Chief of Elections.

The contrast between Ansorge and Rutrick’s respective experiences with campaign violations is evidence of a systemic problem with the vagueness of the election rules, specifically the previously mentioned ballot notation. The Student Union must take into account the fact that the average voter may not know the specific circumstances under which the candidate violated election rules. One measure the Union can take to maximize the fairness of elections is to give an explanation on the ballot elaborating on which rule was violated and how.

Of course it is not feasible to develop rules and procedures that account for every imaginable situation, but election procedures should be structured to eliminate the opportunity for the Chief of Elections to allow their bias to influence his or her decisions. More nuanced rules that distinguish staple guns from slander will maximize the fairness of elections.