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Another Election, Another Scandal

Undergraduate Association President and Vice President write-in candidates Rhett Creighton ’02 and Victor W. Brar ’04 have offered to pay anyone who votes for them $10, stirring controversy among members of the MIT community. UA Election Commission Campaign Rules Board Chair Daniel D. Liston ’04 dealt with the situation in a highly unprofessional manner, ultimately tainting the election to the point where it must be rerun.

The promise of $10 for anyone who votes for Creighton/ Brar clearly constitutes a bribe. Unfortunately, there is nothing in the election code or campaign rules that specifically limits the actions of write-in candidates, no matter how reprehensible their campaign tactics. The best option the Election Commission could have taken would have been to let the election run its course, and then deal with the dispute by appealing to a higher authority, such as the the UA Council, Judicial Review Board, or undergraduates themselves. Article VI, Section 2, Clause 2a of the UA Constitution prescribes that either a three-fourths majority of council or a petition signed by ten percent of the undergraduate body is sufficient to require a special election for UAP/VP.

The actions taken by the commission were legitimate, as per Article II, Section 2, Clause B of the Election Code, which states, “The Commission shall be empowered to enact any special rules governing the election process that do not conflict with the UA Constitution, the Bylaws of the UA Council, or this Code.” Thought the actions undertaken by the commission are authorized in the Election Code, Liston’s e-mail comments illegitimized the decision-making process. Subsequent to these e-mails, Liston resigned from his post as requested by the commission. The commission was right to ask for Liston’s resignation.

Liston turned the issue of Creighton’s candidacy into a personal battle. In an e-mail to Creighton, after online voting had commenced, Liston advised him to “go back to your powerless, innane [sic] existence”; in a later e-mail, he wrote that all votes for Creighton/Brar were void, and that “it is the election commission’s duty to elect officers of high standards.” Election Commissioner Helen H. Lee ’02 later confirmed that all votes for Creighton/Brar would be invalidated; Creighton and Brar subsequently announced their intention to appeal the decision.

At this point, it is unclear what will happen to votes cast for Creighton/Brar. This uncertainty has tainted the electoral process. Students ought to know how their votes will be counted when they vote.

This uncertainty is the result of a poor set of rules governing the UA electoral process. The UA clearly needs legislative reform to prevent such a controversy from being repeated in future years. Buying votes is simply unethical; however, it is not expressly forbidden by the Election Code. Additionally, the strictest punishment listed in the candidate rules packet is removal from the ballot, a sanction that has no effect on write-in candidates. Creighton and Brar’s campaign has clearly exposed some gaps in the Election Code.

The Election Code code offers a vague mandate to the commission regarding write-in campaigns. Article III, Section 2, Clause E states, “A write-in candidate may not be declared the winner of a race until he or she demonstrates that he or she is a registered undergraduate, signs the Statement of Candidacy, and satisfies any additional requirements set by the Commission.” This clause leaves too much room for interpretation by the Commission.

This clause and the clause empowering the Election Commission to enact special rules offer the Commission too much authority. Without a clear set of rules, the Election Commission is forced to make decisions based on overly elastic clauses in the Election Code. As this is the third consecutive UAP/VP election where the Election Commission has decided to disqualify a candidate during the course of the election, it is clear that the rules governing elections are flawed.

The UA needs to redraft legislation to ensure clean elections. UA election law needs to allow for tougher sanctions than removal from the ballot, thereby preventing write-in candidates from sabotaging the electoral process. However, the Commission’s ability to invalidate a candidate needs to be limited to a clearly delineated set of violations.

If Creighton succeeds in getting elected as a write-in candidate, an attempt to remove him from office would be valid through a channel of higher authority, such as the UA Council, Judicial Review Board, or a petition signed by 10 percent of the undergraduate student body. The Creighton/Brar ticket based its candidacy upon bribery, an invalid campaign tactic. Problems in the 2002 UAP/VP elections have mounted since Creighton announced his candidacy. The only way to save the integrity of this year’s election is to revote.