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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    ASUA codes broken

    Almost all ASUA elected officials may be guilty of Election Code violations reaching back to last March’s general election.

    The code states that all Associated Students of the University of Arizona candidates must remove their campaign materials by a business week after the general elections. This includes online campaign materials, according to the 2009 ASUA Elections Code.

    However, as campaigning for the current election race officially began Monday, every sitting senator, as well as ASUA President Tommy Bruce and Administrative Vice President Seema Patel, still had not taken down all of their online campaign materials from last year’s election.

    “”I really don’t see it as a big deal,”” said Kenny Ho, ASUA Elections Commissioner.

    It was a big deal for Rhonda Tubbs, though, who knows something about election codes specifying online campaign material.

    After winning a race for executive vice president in the 2006 ASUA elections, Tubbs was disqualified from entering office. Tubbs, the Elections Commission decided, had violated an Election Code when her friend posted “”Vote Rhonda Tubbs”” on her America Online messenger profile, the Daily Wildcat reported in Feb. 2006.

    Tubbs was also found guilty of not receiving approval to hand out cookies on the UA Mall and sending emails through a campus listserv campaigning for votes.

    No such action will be taken against current violators of the code, and the current Elections Commission has no authority over previous years, Ho said.

    “”I don’t have any real power over the materials or anything that happened the previous year,”” he said. “”I really have no power over any other elections.””

    Separate from the “”Campaign Material Cleanup”” code, Bruce and Sen. Stephen Wallace admitted to violating the code specifying the earliest time at which candidates can begin campaigning.

    Bruce said he violated the rule in last year’s election when his previous year’s campaign Facebook group remained in existence over the course of the year. The group counted as campaign material before candidates were allowed to start campaigning.

    Wallace, who is currently seeking Senate re-election, also failed to take down his campaign Facebook group following last year’s election, thus also displaying campaign material before the beginning of the allowed campaign timeframe, which started on Monday.

    Wallace said he kept the group up as a remembrance to his campaign’s hard work and never meant to violate the Election Code.

    “”It was a great time in my life,”” he said. “”I had no intention to use that to my benefit.””

    Many senators may not be aware of the code and should be notified immediately to avoid a code violation, Wallace said.

    Wallace took down his previous campaign’s Facebook group the same day he spoke to the Daily Wildcat about the issue.

    Ho said the Elections Commission would not seek a case against Wallace.

    While senators and executives may have violated the Election Code, “”nobody was really using it to benefit themselves,”” Wallace said.

    Aside from having no authority over last year’s election, Ho said he does not believe any elected ASUA officials have broken the rules.

    The 2008 ASUA Election Code defines online campaign material as “”(a)ny and all websites, web pages, and/or profiles on online networking sites including, but not limited to Facebook and MySpace …””

    Despite the code’s specific inclusion of Facebook groups as online campaign materials, senators and executives may not have violated the code, Ho said.

    The separate Election Code that specifies when campaign materials need to be taken down did not specifically call out Facebook groups, although it did call for the removal of all online campaign materials.

    Since the code does not call for the specific removal of Facebook groups, candidates failing to remove them from the social networking site are not guilty of keeping online campaign material up, Ho said.

    The Elections Commission changed the “”Cleanup”” portion of the code this year to specifically include “”Facebook”” in the language, rather than leave it up to interpretation whether the social networking site is included in online campaign materials that must be removed following the election.

    The original purpose and meaning of the code is up to interpretation and may not include the removal of Facebook groups, said Executive Vice President Jessica Anderson, the only elected ASUA official to have taken down her campaign Facebook group months ago.

    The original meaning of the code falls with the creator of the current template for the code and the “”online campaign materials”” portion of the code – 2006-07 Elections Commissioner David Martinez.

    “”I revised it considerably from the original template, which was passed down and created in the early ’80s,”” said Martinez, who is now a student regent for the Arizona Board of Regents. “”A basic technology that was in the code when I got it were emails, spam, the mass distribution of emails, Web sites. It was barely starting to touch on Facebook and MySpace.””

    Although Facebook and MySpace were not specifically mentioned in Martinez’s revised code, they still would have counted as online campaign materials, along with any other social networking sites, he said.

    In fact, any part of the code that mentions online campaign materials clearly includes Facebook and MySpace by definition, Martinez said.

    Ho disagrees.

    “”It is considered campaign material, but it’s not clearly defined as needing to be deleted,”” he said. “”It’s a little gray in that area.””

    Any Elections Commission deciding on such a matter should also take into account candidates’ confusion over how to remove their campaign materials, Ho said.

    “”A lot of students don’t actually know how to delete (groups),”” he said. “”Facebook groups are just a weird area, obviously, with the Elections Code.””

    Even if the Elections Commission thought a candidate might be violating a code, there is no guarantee it will be looked into, Anderson said.

    “”The Elections Commission doesn’t look for violations. They respond to violations,”” she said. “”There’s a point where it comes down to common sense.””

    Under the current systems, the commission typically only acts after receiving an anonymous complaint. A complaint must be made within 48 hours of the potential violation, and if the commission decides against the candidate, he or she has 24 hours to deal with the violation, Anderson said.

    Bruce said he could not release whether complaints have been made against candidates, since the process is anonymous and discreet.

    Rules about technology within the code are, and have been, an uphill fight, and ASUA must think about the consequences of bogging down the process with technicalities and seeking out violations, Anderson said.

    “”We don’t want to see less people going out for ASUA,”” she said. “”We need to take the lessons learned from each election.””

    Anderson said she believes no ASUA officials have violated the Elections Code.

    Bruce, Anderson and Ho all echoed the sentiment that the rule is not clear-cut and comes back to the commissioner’s discretion.

    Despite code-naming Facebook groups as online campaign material and Martinez’s assertion that the groups count as material that must be removed following elections, the trio says the rule is murky at best and open to interpretation.

    In the end, prevention of future cases should come down to specifically informing all parties of the code, rather than relying on candidates to read the code and interpret it for themselves, said Sen. Jason Mighdoll.

    Mighdoll said he will consider removing his 2008 campaign Facebook group.

    “”I didn’t know there was that rule (until) about a week afterward,”” he said. “”It gets complicated.””

    In the future, the commission should take into account whether the rule is even necessary, as it pertains to Facebook groups, Mighdoll said.

    “”I don’t think it’s necessary to take (the groups) down, especially if you want to communicate what you’ve accomplished, if you want to communicate with people in your group,”” he said. “”After the elections are over, I don’t think it has a variance.””

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