Video: What FAU administrators don’t want you knowing about Student Government Elections
February 25, 2014
Whether you vote for the student body president and vice president in the ongoing Student Government elections — or don’t — you already pay their salaries.
FAU students pay up to $10.8 million annually in Activity and Service fees in their tuition, which fund SG — but most students don’t care enough to vote for the people managing their tuition dollars. In fact, when 2,792 out of the university’s 28,846 eligible students voted last spring, that was a record (fall elections are worse, watch the video and see the charts below for voter turnout data since 2007).
The UP cannot verify how many students voted last spring though, because when the “ballot strings,” or raw voter data for last year’s election were requested as public records in January, the Division of Student Affairs didn’t produce them or acknowledge the request. Neither did VoteNet, the company that oversees the online ballots in elections.
When asked to comment on how the “official” results were verified, VoteNet and Senior Vice President of Student Affairs Charles Brown declined to comment.
Now, Yury Konnikov, an FAU alumnus and President of the Florida Initiative for Electoral Reform is saying last year’s elections were run without transparency. According to Konnikov, after reaching out to VoteNet and Brown himself, he was told nothing would change.
“Due to a lack of diligence, a lack of leadership, and fundamentally a lack of respect by administration for students themselves and their ability to engage in self-determination and leadership, a very bad civics lesson has been taught here,” Konnikov said.
“And is being taught and practiced… a very good reform that is very good for students and the campus civic environment, has been essentially undermined by errors that could’ve been wholly avoided.”
In 2013, SG tried out a new electoral system, switching from a simple majority system to instant runoff voting for presidential elections. The change was approved in 2012 by students and Brown and ended the unnecessary runoff elections that took place in earlier elections. When the elections for those years turned into a three-way race, it became almost impossible for a pair of running mates to win in the first election.
So instant runoff, a system used by countless city and state governments in the U.S. and other countries, like San Francisco’s city elections, was considered the solution by student leaders.
That is, of course, until the instant runoff system created as many problems in the 2013 election as in previous elections. There was, however, a record voter turnout of eight percent of the student body. But after the instant runoff system was contested as much as the old system, SG reverted to a simple majority election for 2014.
Patrick Callahan, the current Student Body President who is seeking reelection this year, is supportive of the reversion.
“There was a lot of different problems that happened. First there were the unofficial results that came out, then there were a second pair of unofficial results that came out, and then the official results were announced, ” Callahan said. “I feel the student body was slightly confused about who necessarily won the election and who didn’t.”
Aneal Ramkissoon, a candidate for student body president in this election and the current Director of a Student Government organization called the Council of Student Organizations, or COSO, is OK with the change back despite still supporting instant runoff.
“We had to reevaluate that situation and propose something new that’s easier and clear for the administration, as well as the students,” Ramkissoon said. “That doesn’t mean that in future years that the instant runoff can be reevaluated and executed in a way that can work better for FAU students and the community.”
Konnikov stands by instant runoff voting as a fairer system for both voters and candidates.
“We should keep instant runoff voting because it is positive, it evens the playing field for all students, for student voters and for candidates. It should be implemented properly, transparently,” Konnikov said. “This is a campus, this is a learning experience, we should take the mistakes that happened and learn from them and implement the solutions.”