I am a part of Kristina Smith’s campaign for DSG President. I was there when the alleged campaign misconduct occurred. And I am here to tell you that the Board of Elections has created a controversy where one does not exist.
On Thursday, March 8, between the hours of 7 p.m. and 7:45 p.m., Kristina—as well as three other campaign members and I—were standing outside of Marketplace, handing out flyers to first-years we hoped would participate in the electoral process. It’s the prototypical picture of student government campaigning; we were disseminating information to first-years about our platform, as is standard in DSG campaigns. Candidates Sabriyya Pate and Yemi Kolawole were doing the same, just inside the double doors that lead to everyone’s least favorite first-year eating establishment. Candidate Sean Bissell had handed out flyers earlier in the day.
The only difference: we also had a locked iPad playing music. Collectively, we were having fun, evading the sudden onset of freezing temperatures by flailing around to the tune of some certifiable bangers by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Smashmouth.
We were trying to have fun as the two-week-long campaign entered its final stages. We consider our actions innocent.
The Board of Elections disagrees.
The Board ruled the presence of an iPad as a violation of Section 6 of the Election Rules and Procedures of 2017-18. They chose to dock the Smith campaign 200 votes in a move that could ultimately cost her the election.
Section 6 of the Election Rules and Procedures of 2017-18 states that “while polls are open, no student shall solicit votes for any candidate while possessing any laptop, tablet, or similar electronic device that can access the ballot.” The intent of this piece of legislation is clear and noble: to prevent voter coercion in university elections. No candidate should be able to knock on your dorm room door and present your groggy face with a computer, demanding that you vote in their favor. Such an action would denigrate our electoral system, and it would make for plenty of annoyed groggy people.
But in practice, the Board of Elections has taken this definition of the word possession to its logical extreme. The Board significantly departs from the proper role of Section 6, which is to fight against voter coercion, in order to penalize Kristina’s campaign.
At some point, we must understand the framer’s intent. Even though the Senate approved this By-Law, it is hard to imagine that any sitting DSG senator anticipated that this rule would be interpreted so broadly.
An iPad playing music does not provide much of an electoral advantage, if any at all.
It does not make sense that the use of an iPad for music would have given our campaign a 200-vote advantage in particular, when it was not even using its internet capacity.
And in assessing this penalty, the Board of Elections did not even follow their own guidelines.
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By the Board of Elections’ own by-laws, Kristina was required to be allotted time to present her own case. Section 8 number 5 requires that “an in-person hearing shall be automatic for violations resulting in a possible penalty of 50 votes or more.” Our penalty of 200 votes is four times this threshold, and the Board of Elections did not offer the opportunity to have this hearing until after their final decision. This violates one of our fundamental student rights, the right of due process, and it left a candidate and a campaign scrambling with 13 hours left in a DSG presidential election.
I know that Kristina Smith is the best candidate for our undergraduate student body. Next year, if given the chance, she will bridge the gap between Duke Student Government and our administration in order to enact positive, concrete and lasting change.
I have seen first-hand just how much she cares about our undergraduate body, and I have stood witness to the passion of her supporters, fully backing her vision. I hope that the DSG Judiciary understands that the faulty interpretation of an election by-law should not overshadow the support that students and organizations have consistently voiced for Kristina’s platform for a better Duke.
Steve Hassey is a Trinity junior and the Co-Head of Outreach for Kristina Smith's DSG presidential campaign. He is also separately a columnist for The Chronicle.