Changes in SA elections surface week before polls open
Clarity Party drops out, election amendment never finalized
This year’s Student Association elections are going to look much different than what many might have expected at this time last year.
A party is set to run unopposed for the first time since 2008 after the Clarity Party dropped out of the election Monday night, and some people in SA are just now discovering that an amendment to have the president and vice president run on separate ballots was never made official.
UB Council Student Representative Minahil Khan, Special Interests Services and Hobbies (SISH) Council Coordinator Sean Kaczmarek and Engineering Council Coordinator Joe Pace, all of the Unity Party, will run unopposed next week as the only president, vice president and treasurer candidates, respectively.
Elections will still be held from April 14-16 in the Student Union Theater, but SA President James Ingram said the polls might be open for reduced hours.
Thomas Van Doran, Clarity Party presidential candidate, officially notified Elections and Credentials Chair Matthew Siwiec of the party’s decision via email Monday night around 11 p.m. Tim Martin, the party’s vice president candidate, and David Perl, the party’s treasurer candidate, did the same shortly after.
Van Doran, Martin and Perl currently do not hold any positions in SA. Perl could have run independently as a treasurer candidate if he chose to do so.
“We kind of went in with the expectation that we weren’t going to win and it was going to be an uphill battle,” Perl said. “Just kind of doing it for fun and give it the old college try and see if it starts off well, continue, and if not, just didn’t want to commit ourselves.”
The party’s withdrawal came after it did not receive an endorsement from the Academic, Engineering and Sports councils on Monday night.
Perl said the party went into the elections with the expectation they would have to reconsider after major events like club endorsements. He also said the party members had conflicts with their work schedule and they may have had to quit their jobs in order to campaign properly.
“I don’t want to quit my job, not win and then not have a job,” Perl said.
Perl said although he feels the Clarity Party was given a fair opportunity, the members knew they did not have a chance to win because the Unity Party is more experienced in SA. He said he did not feel the Clarity Party dropping out and allowing Unity to run unopposed hurts the democratic process of the elections.
“I feel like the democratic process [in SA] is not very strong,” Perl said. “There’s one party that we all know was going to win regardless. The fact that there were only six students out of 20,000 that cared enough to fill out a petition, just kind of shows there’s not much of a process and not great involvement.”
Former SA President Travis Nemmer, who served in the 2012-13 academic year, said he was surprised SA was unable to get two parties to run in year in which it passed rules to “make it easy to run.”
Nemmer was referring to the amendments passed to have the president and vice president run on different ballots and to have the president appoint SUNY delegates so delegates no longer have to run for election. But Nemmer was shocked to learn that the change for president and vice president to run on separate ballots would not be happening this year.
“This was not an unreasonable call by the Senate last year to change the rule because it was a good change,” Nemmer said.
Siwiec proposed changes to have the president and vice president run on different ballots – which would have allowed a president and vice president from opposing parties to be elected – and to have the president appoint SUNY delegates last spring. While Siwiec proposed the delegate changes to both the Assembly and Senate and got them passed, he never brought the ballot changes before the Senate.
Siwiec said he was unaware the ballot amendment would have to go before the Senate to be made official.
“I was under the impression it was just an SA rules and regulation rule, which all you would have to go through is SA Assembly to get that changed,” Siwiec said. “But it ended up being in the SA constitution, if you want constitution changes you need permission from Assembly and Senate.”
Siwiec and Ingram said they discovered this while looking over the SA constitution over the summer but both have since changed their mind about the amendment after originally supporting it. Ingram abstained from the original vote because he said it needed more time for discussion, but spoke in favor of the amendment to The Spectrum in April 2014.
SA Assembly Speaker Melissa Kathan did not find out that the amendment never went through until petitions were due on March 26 – at which point it was too late to amend the election procedures for this year.
She said that she had been made aware that the amendment never went through, she would have worked to get in through the Senate in time for this election.
Siwiec said no official announcement was ever made to SA to let them know the amendment still needed to go through the Senate. He said “there’s really no excuse for not getting it out into the public.” Siwiec was studying abroad in South Korea in the fall and said that had he been at UB, he may have made more people aware.
“Sometimes there’s so much going on with the SA that sometimes there’s so many priorities that we have that we let it leave our minds, so to speak,” he said. “We should have made it more public, but at the same time I’m not as surprised it wasn’t more public.”
He also said most news about amendments are not announced.
Ingram said he has discussed the amendment not going through with some members of the Senate throughout the year who asked him what happened to it. He said he thinks “we all came to same conclusions it made sense to not go forward with the change.”
“It’s not that no one has brought it up at all, it’s just that no one has brought it up to be voted on,” Ingram said.
Siwiec said he changed his mind about the amendment because he realized “there’s a lot of things the vice president can’t do without the president’s approval,” therefore they should be from the same party.
“So if the president and vice president do not have the same ideas it will be more difficult to get things done,” Siwiec said. “There’s a lot of approval that needs to be done by the president so it doesn’t make sense to separate them.”
But Nemmer said that there’s very little a vice president needs to get the approval of the president for. He said the vice president mainly manages coordinators and directs club policy.
“If you can show me any point in the constitution where vice presidential action requires presidential endorsement, I will be shocked,” Nemmer said.
Ingram said he thinks the president and vice president have separate enough jobs that they could be elected from different parties. He said the reason he changed his mind about the amendment has more to with campaigning.
He said because the president makes policy, all the vice president would not be able to have a solid platform if they could not guarantee who their president was.
“What I was envisioning was all the vice president would be able to campaigning on was advocating to the president for the policies he wanted, or they’d have to campaign on was, ‘Yeah I’ll be in the office and I’ll be in efficient and responding to your emails.’ It wouldn’t be a real platform that they could promise,” Ingram said.
Nemmer said this argument is not correct either. He said with that logic, the president and treasurer should have to run together because the treasurer has to sign off on all expenses. The treasurer currently runs on a separate ballot than the president and vice president.
Nemmer said he went weeks without seeing his vice president during his time in office, but saw Treasurer Justin Neuwrit every day. Nemmer and Neuwrit ran on different parties.
Ingram said students can submit a blank ballot that will be interrupted as a vote of no confidence. Siwiec said only one vote is needed for an election to count.
The polls are currently scheduled to be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. over the three days, but may be reduced. New York State election laws mandate that SA still run the elections from April 14-16 because it advertised it would have the elections on those days.
The candidate debate scheduled for Wednesday night in the Student Union Theater will now be an open forum for students to ask Khan, Kaczmarek and Pace questions.
Tom Dinki is the senior news editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org