In-person and less restricted Student Assembly campaigning allowed this spring

Changes in the 2022 Election Planning and Advisory Committee code addresses controversy from last year’s election cycle on the regulation of social media campaigning and support.

by Emily Fagell | 4/12/22 5:10am

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by Tiffany Chang / The Dartmouth

For the first time since 2019, Student Assembly candidates will be able to campaign in person before elections on April 26, according to the Election Planning and Advisory Committee’s updated 2022 election code. The elections will also operate under updated budget requirements and loosened restrictions on social media tactics.

Revisions to the code regarding less oversight on social media conduct came in the wake of last year’s controversy, when SA presidential and vice-presidential candidates Attiya Khan ’22 and Sebastian Muñoz-McDonald ’23 had their campaign temporarily suspended for “spreading misinformation and due to supporter conduct.” While both Khan and Muñoz-McDonald spoke out publicly against unfair treatment during last year’s election cycle, EPAC chair Zippy Abraham Paiss ’23 said the suspension was “not a unique case” and changes to the code had been warranted prior to the controversy. 

“I would say I have always wanted these changes,” Abraham Paiss said. “Before the beginning of last year’s campaign period, I thought that it would make sense if EPAC was more hands off, but the rules already existed and [were] written in the code, and it wasn’t my place to change them.”

Now, as a second-year chair, Abraham Paiss said she felt compelled to amend this year’s election code after being in conversation with the rest of the committee.

The return to in-person campaigning involves many changes. In concordance with the College’s COVID-19 policies, candidates may now hold public forums and gatherings. Lifted restrictions also now enable campaigns to spread fliers, hang up posters and banners, use chalk according to the College’s chalking policies, set up tables in public areas and send one bulk mailing to Hinman mailboxes.

Current SA members responded positively to the return to in-person campaigning.

“I do think that Dartmouth is an in-person kind of place,” School House senator Paul Hager ’22 said. “The events and booths and activities that draw the most interesting students are things that happen in person [...] Speaking as a ’22, I remember the campaigning that happened before — a lot of big chalk drawings and outreach activities. I bet those will continue to be popular in the same way.”

South House senator Anthony Fosu ’24 said he believes that “candidates are going to engage more with the student body,” while many may still utilize strategies learned during virtual campaigns.

“The most effective campaigns will use a mix of different types of messaging, just because different students respond differently to different types of campaigning,” Fosu said. “I do think it’s advantageous regarding students and candidates in these elections to have access to all of these avenues.”

Fosu added that he plans to run for re-election this spring, and he “will be leveraging many of these new changes” in order to “reconnect with [his] constituency.” 

In addition, students will have the option to vote either in-person or through the Dartmouth Engage online portal, according to the 2022 election code.

Candidates will also enjoy heightened freedoms on social media. Whereas students previously required EPAC’s permission before posting any content online, candidates may now post without pre-approval, Abraham Paiss said. Additionally, candidates are no longer required to make a campaign-specific account and EPAC will allow unlimited posts on private accounts; previously, candidates were restricted to three campaign-related posts on personal accounts during the election cycle, according to the 2021 code. Candidates must still tag EPAC in all election-related content, physical or digital, Abraham Paiss added.

“The reason that [the restrictions] initially existed is that some people had huge followings on social media and other people had very low followings on social media,” Abraham Paiss explained. “[But] there are also reasons that some people have accumulated that kind of following. Maybe they really care about things in the community, or they’ve been part of activism for a while. I wanted people to be able to use the platforms that they had built.”

Fosu called the revision “beneficial to everyone,” agreeing that the new rules allow candidates to “use their existing platforms, rather than having to create entirely new ones.”

The 2022 code also includes several budgetary revisions — specifically, an increase from $250 to $300 for presidential campaign budgets, an increase from $95 to $125 for Class Council budgets and an increase from $65 to $75 for SA senator, Committee on Standards and Organizational Adjudication Committee campaigns.

In regards to the previous election code, Khan also raised concerns about EPAC’s previous general social media oversight. Last year, Khan and Muñoz-McDonald were “held responsible” for social media posts made by other students, even if they were not officially affiliated with their campaign, Khan said.

“That felt unrealistic,” Khan continued. “Even if they didn’t mention our campaign in the tweet, but they had previously said that they supported our campaign — we were still liable for that.”

Khan added that sanctions only applied to students who “posted [abuse] publicly with their name,” while any private violations — such as the “plenty of abuse” she alleged her campaign received on Librex — went unpunished.

“The other campaign, as far as I know, didn’t face any consequences over that [abuse],” Khan said. “They weren’t expected to put out a statement, telling people to be nice, whatever. So [EPAC] was inconsistent in its enforcement, but when it was enforced, it felt overreaching.”

In general, Abraham Paiss said EPAC will not control online activity to the same extent that they did during last year’s election cycle.

“The goal of EPAC is to work primarily in the background,” Abraham Paiss said. “I like when people don’t know that we exist. That means the campaign period is going smoothly.”

While Hager said there are merits to certain regulations — such as avoiding a “popularity contest” or preventing electoral manipulation — he said that EPAC enforced “surprisingly stringent” rules prior to the code changes and should instead more fully operate in the background of SA elections.

“The level of seriousness with which I’ve seen EPAC operate is definitely commendable,” Hager said. “They behave professionally. But at the same time, I don’t know that [restrictions are] commensurate with the level of competition we’ve seen in Student Assembly elections.”

Although Abraham Paiss said she is content with the code as it stands, she recognized that the code is an “ever-evolving document.”

“The code itself has been changed again and again each year for the past 17 [years],” Abraham Paiss said. “I think every single year little things will be changed again.”

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