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ISSUE 117 VOL 13 PUBLISHED 3/12/2004

Election begets controversy

By Jane Dudzinski
News Editor

Friday, March 12, 2004

Amidst a failed attempt at online voting and multiple regulation infractions, last weeks Student Government Association (SGA) executive elections drew a record student voter turnout.

Last Friday 1,476 students, or approximately 51 percent of the student body, voted in Buntrock Commons. This was a record turnout, according to Megan Astry 04, SGA election chair and RPC senator, who said that only 900 students voted in the SGA executive elections last year.

Astry attributed the success of this year's voter turnout to the tight president/vice-president race between Seth Heringer 05 and running mate Janine Wetzel 05 and Peter Arnold 05 and running mate Peder Hertsgaard 05. In the end, Heringer and Wetzel received 1,075 votes to Arnold and Hertsgaards 390.

"The candidates were really visible people, and lots of people know who they are," Astry said. "They put a lot of time and effort into what they were doing."

Toward the end of the campaigning process, Astry's Election Commission dealt with numerous infractions in the campaign regulations, which she had previously set forth at a mandatory candidate meeting on Feb. 24.

The first infraction occurred March 4, the day before the elections, when both president/vice-president teams hung posters in residence halls without submitting them for approval, as stated in the SGA bylaws.

"It was not a big deal," Astry said. "After it was called to my attention, I phoned the dorm front desks and [the situation] was taken care of immediately."

The same day, Astry said that Heringer/Wetzel campaigners also broke bylaws by distributing fliers and hanging up posters that did not have Heringer and Wetzels names on them.

Astry took action again by asking Heringer and Wetzel to put their names on all of the fliers and posters immediately. As per the decision of the Election Commission, Heringer and Wetzel also had to write a letter of apology to their opponents, as well as post a formal apology on their St. Olaf-sponsored website.

"We take responsibility entirely," Heringer said. "In the heat of the campaign, we tried to get [the fliers] out as fast as possible. It was an oversight, and we took full responsibility for it&.we did all we could to correct it."

Since the infraction, controversy has arisen surrounding the disciplinary action taken by the Election Commission in regards to Heringer and Wetzels infraction. Arnold and Hertsgaard felt that the Election Commission did not take enough action.

"We have to question the point of bylaws," Arnold said. "There was no real public apology. We didnt care; we just wanted them to tell St. Olaf. We asked around, and no one knew what had happened."

Arnold said that he expected Heringer and Wetzel to be disqualified after their infraction.

"No one wants to win because of a disqualification, but we were celebrating an early victory," Arnold said. "They knew and were aware [of the rules] and explicitly went against them. That seems grounds for obvious disqualification."

Astry stressed that the Election Commission did everything in its power to take the proper actions under the circumstances.

"I think that the Election Commission worked fairly and ethically every second of this election," Astry said. "There was no hidden agenda. I cant stress enough that we followed the guidelines and regulations to a tee. I think that the final results show that the student body spoke."

Wetzel pointed out that the election bylaws allow the Commission to make its decisions on a case by case basis.

"There is no automatic punishment for any violation," Wetzel said. "It allows the Election Commission to get the feel for a given situation. I have respect for the decision and maintain its integrity."

Right now, the Election Commission, in conjunction with the Senate Bylaws Subcommittee, is in the process of rewriting the policy manual for the election next year, and it will then be approved by the entire Senate.

Another infraction that occurred during the campaign process was that the Arnold/Hertsgaard campaign hung signs from trees and light poles around campus on March 5, according to Astry. Because these signs violated the rules of the St. Olaf grounds crew, she said that the Commission "repeatedly asked them to take them down and they refused," so she eventually cut down the signs herself.

Arnold and Hertsgaard maintained there was only sign that violated the policies, which they took care of when it came to their attention.

"We didn't check our email until late that day, because we were in Buntrock the whole day," Hertsgaard said.

Another snafu that occurred on election day was the failure of the online voting system. Astry said that when she checked the website at midnight on March 5, it allowed her to vote as many times as she wanted.

She then called the webmaster, Eric Palmer 04, who pulled the program. Because there was no one on campus to fix the problem the next morning, Astry made an executive decision to turn to paper ballots.

This sudden change in the election process was another point of contention among the candidates.

"We were very disappointed," Arnold said. "We encouraged everyone to vote before they went to bed that night, and we even did dorm raids at midnight. But, our plans crumbled&.we put most of our eggs in the online voting basket."

Astry, however, thought that even more students voted because of the paper ballots.

"We attracted people with the table [at the bottom of the stairs to the cafeteria] and signs everywhere," she said. "Weve always gone with paper ballots before and thats what people expect."

The candidates on both sides said that the close race this year made the campaign process more exciting than usual.

"The voter turnout was the best thing about this race," Wetzel said. "It wasnt easy on either side. We had to define our platform well and talk to lots of students."

Arnold and Hertsgaard agreed, saying that they worked hard to promote their cause.

"We campaigned our butts off and talked to everyone on campus," Arnold said. "Overall, it was a great experience and we hope people appreciate how much work went into this campaign."

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