In anticipation of the 2014 Student Government Association elections, several additions and modifications have been made to last year's election packet.
The Election Commission, comprised of the current highest elected SGA officials and four additional students appointed by SGA President Jake Baker, met and targeted areas of the previous election packet they felt needed revision.
Before approval, the tentative 2014 packet was debated and voted on twice by the SGA senate. Although the Election Commission proposed the modifications, senators could reject any changes or add amendments.
The final product, a 42-page document, adds a cap to campaign finances and executive campaign members, alters the election season timeline and restricts self-promotion via social media.
Previously, campaigns were permitted to jointly spend $7,000 in cash and accept an unlimited number of donations. The new election packet stipulates that campaigns cannot spend more than $12,500, with a maximum of $5,000 in cash — a limit Baker said he believes reasonable and necessary.
Next year, Baker anticipates an even lower budget limit.
"Last year, Paige Atchley and I were able to win president and vice president with a campaign valued at approximately $2,500," Baker said. "One of our opponents had a campaign valued at over $24,000. Election Commission agreed that our elections needed to be changed."
Lindsay Lee, another member of the Election Commission, said changes to the budget were motivated by the abuse of non-monetary donations.
"The sheer quantity of free stuff being handed out was taking away from the actual issues at hand," Lee, senior in Spanish and math, said.
Lee added: "Also, if there is no cap, then campaigns feel as though they need to try to get as many donations as humanly possible and hopefully get more than the other campaigns. Getting donations distracts from other important parts of a student government campaign, like policy development and communication with voters."
To track spending, campaigns must submit three Campaign Value Reports, a requirement carried over from the last election.
"Submitting CVRs with receipts is a pain, and Election Commission knows that," Lee said. "But it's important that we make sure the campaigns are fair and ethical, and keeping track of campaign finances is part of that.
"While it might be a pain for the campaigns, it'll also help them stay more organized."
The packet now accommodates a new position available on the ballot: Board of Trustees Representative. While the Board of Trustees Representative must meet the same requirements as other elected officials, including a minimum 2.75 cumulative GPA, the student must also remain enrolled at UT for at least two years following election. This mandate is designed to ensure completion of the position's two year service commitment.
In addition, the election packet defines the 2014 campaigning timeline. Social media and website campaigning, for example, are restricted until Feb. 23, after petitions to run for office have officially been submitted. Partisan emails are prohibited until March 31.
Pre-election campaign rules are now more clearly defined, specifying that on- and off-campus campaigning is governed by the same restrictions detailed in the packet. Candidates will not be able to stake out political signs until March 31 at 7 a.m. The locations of these signs must also be submitted to the Election Commission before any signs are posted.
Another change in the election packet involves the number of Executive Committee members on a campaign, defined by the packet as "a member of a political party with control, in part or in full, over the financial and ideological directions and decisions of the political party." In the 2013 race, campaigns were allowed to have unlimited Executive Committee members and General Campaign members. Now, campaigns are limited to submitting 20 Appendix K forms for executive members. However, there are no restrictions on filing Appendix L forms for general members.
"This year we didn't think that was right because those people are just general campaign members, not 'executive' members," Ryan Ray, senior in accounting and Election Commission member, said. "We wanted some sort of delineation so people wouldn't be able to just kind of file everyone that they know as an executive member and get a leg up."
Any violations to the rules are filed as complaints to the Election Commissioner, John Keny, senior in political science, who presents them to the Ethics Committee. The committee then decides appropriate punishments.
Several ideas were left out of the packet, including converting the voting system to a ranked choice system. Still, Baker said he views the accepted alterations as significant improvements.
"We are really proud of the 2014 election packet," Baker said. "We believe that all of the changes made this year will have a positive impact on the election and campaign process."
To read the 2014 election packet in its entirety, click here.
Imporant SGA Election Dates
Candidates must turn in all petitions and qualifying forms and formally present campaign members.
Mandatory SGA kick-off meeting for every candidate.
Campaign websites and social media sites may go public.
Candidates may begin speaking engagements.
Ballot posted on SGA website (votesga.utk.edu).
Political signs may be staked in the ground on and off campus.
First Campaign Value Report (CVR) must be submitted.
Second CVR must be submitted.
Voting is online.
Election results announced at 6:30 p.m. in the UC Shiloh Room.
Final CVR must be submitted.
Campus clean-up day of all campaign materials.