By: Adam Waldorf
Kerri-Anne Tingle’s voice quavered as she tried to defend herself against accusations that she’d cheated when she ran for a senator position with Clarkston’s Student Government Association last spring. A supporter of Tingle’s had handed out campaign materials on one of the days of election, an action that violated the SGA campaign guidelines and regulations. Ultimately, the student judicial board stripped her of her senate seat. She’d received 90 votes from Clarkston’s 7,000-plus student campus, over 70 more than the next highest vote-getter.
“In any student election … the objective … is to have a high participation rate,” Dr. Vincent June, GPC’s Vice President for Student Affairs, said. However, the guidelines and regulations in place for SGA and Homecoming Court have the effect of making elections at GPC a low-information, low-turnout affair. Candidates, among other restrictions, are barred from campaigning once voting commences.
“This administration did not develop these rules,” June said. Still, the rules continue to be applied to current students. In the recent Homecoming Court elections at Dunwoody, the Homecoming King winner, Johnny Le, was accused of violating the campaigning blackout during the four days of voting. The matter was dropped by GPC, with no explanation, days after Le was informed of the accusation and pending hearing.
Le maintained he did not violate campaign guidelines. “This is BS,” he said shortly after being informed of the accusations, “I did not violate the rules.” He did, however, express bewilderment at the prohibition against campaigning during the voting period. “Logically speaking,” he said, “it doesn’t make much sense. Why can’t a person campaign [in that time]?”
Many of the rules in place for SGA elections are vague and worded in confusing ways. There are a set of guidelines and a set of regulations, both of which candidates are given and instructed to adhere to. The guidelines state that candidates may not campaign after online polls open at 8 a.m. The regulations, however, state (all wording of regulations, guidelines and rules is exactly as it appears on the original copies) that “all campaigning must cease at 12:00 am the morning of the SGA the day of elections.”
The Homecoming Court campaigning rules, the SGA election guidelines and the SGA campaigning regulations all have prohibitions on what is termed “mudslinging,” or negative campaigning. The exact wording of the guideline’s version is ““Mudslinging” is a poor campaign technique and will not be tolerated under my circumstances.”
Executive director of the Student Press Law Center Frank Lomonte does not believe that a rule against mudslinging could possibly be enforced by a government agency against candidates at any level. “That is a term that has no legal meaning,” he said, “and a person running for office would have no clue where the boundary lies between fair comment about the opponent on one hand and “mudslinging” on the other. A person who is punished for violating a rule against “mudslinging” would have a strong First Amendment argument that the rule was unconstitutionally vague.”
Dr. June addressed this topic in an email to The Collegian. “Discouraging students from mudslinging does not infringe on the free speech right of students,” he said. “Conversely, it helps to promote an environment free from slander, untrue derogatory statements, and unethical behaviors.”
The guidelines also state “Candidates must be twenty (20) feet away from the voting booth while the election is in progress.”
“Technically, any computer or laptop could be considered a polling station,” former Clarkston SGA vice president Antonio Molina said. “Do you have to stay 20 feet away from your own computer?”
Kerri-Anne Tingle was done in by two rules. The first was the campaigning blackout during the voting period. The second was a regulation stating that “candidates are responsible for the repercussions of all actions made on behalf of their candidacy by others.” Tingle was expected to control those campaigning for her while, as she explained to the student judicial board, she was in class. One member of the judicial board questioned Tingle’s morals during the hearing. As Tingle walked out of the hearing, tears were evident on her face. Her campaign team and friends consoled her as they complained about the board’s expectations of Tingle.
“If she had control over it, she would have stopped it,” Former Clarkston SGA vice president Kieera Pertiller said, “but she couldn’t.”
Dr. June told The Collegian that the rules will be up for review at the beginning of the next fiscal year. “We really need to make a concerted effort to go back to the table and review,” he said.
Dean of student services at the Alpharetta campus Frank Nash concurred with Dr. June. “A lot of what is in place has been in place for some time,” he said. “There’s a lot of work to be done.”