Complexity of EPAC rules puzzles some candidates

by Erin Meanley | 4/29/03 5:00am

Copious and confusing rules set forth by the Elections Planning and Advisory Committee have Student Assembly election candidates falling into traps they do not even know are there.

Three candidates have already violated election rules this year because they were unclear on election bylaws. This confusion has some candidates complaining the EPAC is not functioning properly or fairly.

Two candidates, Marcie Wing '06 and Dave Wolkoff '05, were forced to take down their posters by last Monday because of election rules. Two days later, presidential candidate Brett Theisen '05 received a warning for a friend's mass email.

"It's unfortunate. It's hard to make calls. But we are trying to be fair," said Patrick Jou '03, chair of EPAC, which is in charge of creating and enforcing the Assembly's election rules

"We were very explicit in the meeting we held for candidates. We highlighted the main rules at the meeting and told everyone to make sure they knew them well. I said five or six times that if they had any questions, they should contact me."

Not everyone found things so clear. Wing said the informational meeting "was overwhelming; they throw so many things out at you. I was attentive, I listened, I made a conscious effort to know the rules. But somehow I overlooked one."

Wolkoff, a candidate for Assembly vice president, received a sanction after his roommate took five posters and put them up on a wall near where they both work.

"My roommate felt bad he did not have time to work on my campaign, so he did it to be nice. The reason he did this was because he wasn't working on the campaign -- he was not a supporter," Wolkoff said.

"If the definition of a supporter is someone who hangs a poster, then I am responsible for everyone on campus."

According to Jared Alessandroni '03, an EPAC member for the last two years, a supporter is "anyone associated with a campaign."

"A supporter is anybody who is in support of the campaign and part of the organized front, anyone doing publicity for you, actively campaigning for you, regardless of his or her relationship to you," he said.

But Wolkoff's roommate hung the signs precisely because he had not been helping Wolkoff's campaign -- and because he had not been actively campaigning, according to Wolkoff, he did not know the rules.

"Obviously you can't control everybody," Alessandroni responded. "But if there's any chance of violation, the candidate's job is to tell his friends the rules before they become an active member of the campaign."

Penalties for campaign violations have increased since last year. "In the past, we had trouble holding people accountable," said Molly Stutzman '02, former Chair of EPAC. "People would violate campaign rules on behalf of somebody else. How do you prove they're a supporter?"

This year, said Stutzman, "candidates are responsible for informing every single person they know who might act on their behalf."

But this may be impossible. During a recent College-wide blitz war, one of presidential candidate Theisen's friends replied to a mass email and asked students to vote for Theisen.

"It was just a buddy joking. He didn't know the rules," Theisen said. "The blitz rules are not well-defined. What am I allowed to do? Can I blitz my team and say, please blitz everyone on your floor? I don't even know if that's allowed."

Candidates had different views on the sanctions they received. Theisen conceded that the warning is "fair in the sense that he's just letting me know it was a rule."

Wing insists she is not mad with the EPAC ruling. "Jou did the right thing; he is just playing by the rules. I have no complaint."

Wolkoff did have a problem with EPAC's decision, but his appeal to the committee was denied. He now campaigns door-to-door.

Alessandroni insisted EPAC penalties are not too drastic.

"It's important to enforce those rules, or else there is no point in having the rules.," Alessandroni said. "What matters to us is that the candidates feel secure they will be treated fairly."

All agree that ruling fairly can be difficult.

"It's really hard. In the guidelines, you can't spell out everything someone could possibly do. There are too many things," Stutzman said. "EPAC needs to take it case by case, and that means being subjective. But you must have some sort of guidelines. It will always be a challenge."

EPAC decisions can be crucial to candidates' campaigns. "A few violations can have a huge impact," said Stutzman.

However, EPAC sanctions are mild in comparison to other schools.

A poster violation at the University of California at San Diego received a much harsher sanction than Wolkoff did. On April 11, eight candidates running on a single ticket were disqualified moments before the election results were disclosed.

The eight-person slate had failed to remove their unwarranted posters before the campaigning deadline of midnight on April 9, according to The UCSD Guardian. The result is that the new president did not win by the popular vote. One slate candidate would have won by over 1,000 votes. Other council positions remain vacant.

In federal and state elections, sanctions other than monetary fines do not occur until after an election, so they do not influence election results, according to the Federal Election Commission website. Only bad publicity from the violation may affect results.