Anyone who was here last year during and following the student government elections in mid-March will remember the problems and controversies that arose in light of elections violations and questions regarding the elections committee bylaws.
Several senators and the SFC Chair-elect, Erin Watari, were all disqualified after winning due to elections violations. Watari and the disqualified senators had not attended the mandatory candidate orientation meeting. Watari ran as a write-in candidate despite her name’s inclusion on the ballot.
Following the disqualifications, which were ultimately decided on by the Evaluation and Constitutional Review Committee, the senators were appointed to seats on the senate by ASPSU President Amara Marino, and the SFC Chair incumbent and runner-up, Tracy Earll, took office in Watari’s place.
This year, the new elections committee has been taking steps to ensure that similar problems can be avoided.
“We looked at all the problems last year and figured out what needed to be fixed,” Aaron O’Donnell, elections committee chair, said.
Marino, who acts in an advisory position to the committee members, added that they reviewed last year’s Vanguard coverage to gain perspective on student government’s problems.
The elections committee made sure to clarify issues dealing with candidate orientation meetings and write-in candidates in their revised bylaws, stemming from the controversy over such topics last year.
O’Donnell explained that the definition of a write-in candidate has been defined more clearly, specifying they must submit an application, but they do not have to attend orientation and their name will not appear on the ballot.
The committee also allowed for multiple candidate orientation meetings at various times on multiple days. Last year there was only one orientation. This year there are six and they were planned with students’ class schedules in mind.
The elections committee is also strategizing to help generate more candidates for the various positions, and will later look at ways to increase voter turn out.
“We had a pretty terrible turnout last year,” O’Donnell said, referring to the small number of candidates that ran for office and the 1,206 voters – a high in recent ASPSU history, but low when compared to the roughly 25,000 students who attend Portland State.
Plans to up those numbers this year, O’Donnell explained, include the traditional distribution of assorted posters, fliers and advertisements. The committee is also considering sending representatives to classes to spread the word about elections and ASPSU, and possibly asking students to “pledge” to vote.
The committee will take on the task of telling students how and when to vote, but O’Donnell insists, “The candidates [themselves] are going to do a good job of telling people why to vote,” through the explanations of their various platforms and campaign goals.
Already the elections committee is doing more than last year to get the word out about elections, and O’Donnell feels this will help get better turnout. He calls it a “‘if you build it, they will come’ kind of thing.”
Marino is impressed with this year’s committee, noting, “They’re probably more prepared than I am.” They have also managed to complete their tasks on time, unlike last year’s committee. Marino jokingly commented that their motto could be, “Don’t be a procrastinator even though we’re students.”
The committee is one member short and is actively seeking an interested student to fill the final seat. But despite this setback, Marino said, “The committee’s been really on top of things.”
The biggest goal for this year’s election, Marino and O’Donnell said, is to get “lots of people” to run for office and even more people to vote.
The elections themselves will be held March 10 – 12; all voting is done online through your PSU Banweb account. To find out about running or for more information, log on to aspsu.pdx.edu/elections or visit the ASPSU office in room 117 Smith Memorial Student Union.