In past University of Colorado student-government election cycles, candidates have sometimes spent nearly $10,000 on campaigns, trading slices of pizza for votes, parading a pony around campus and trespassing in the dorms to direct freshmen to vote on their computers.
Now, a series of election reforms being adopted by the CU Student Government are aimed at making elections more fair, addressing everything from "Facebook libel" to how much candidates can contribute to their own campaigns.
Tyler Quick, a student government executive, fears that those from wealthy families have an advantage because they can essentially use their parents' money to buy the election, in part by using campaign cash to order enough pizza to feed the masses. He also worries the proliferation of laptops makes it easier than ever to quickly trade pizza or candy for uninformed votes, or for laptops or iPads to be passed around at fraternity or sorority gatherings during election week.
"The easiest way to get votes is to say, 'Hey if you vote for me, I'll give you a slice of pizza,'" Quick said. "Privilege should not determine the outcome of student elections. It should be about who is the best person for the job."Admittedly, Quick said, when his ticket was campaigning last year, it brought a pony to campus to garner attention. The parents of one of his running mates have a ranch, he said.
CU's student government, with its budget topping $36 million, in ways is a microcosm of larger-scale national politics with concerns over campaign spending and attack ads spread via social media. But the new reforms, led in part by Quick, address some unique collegiate challenges.
From here on out, there will be no campaigning in bars, or at parties, or anywhere for that matter where a reasonable person would observe that 75 percent of the potential voters are drunk or high on marijuana. No more "dorm-storming," which means candidates aren't allowed to sneak into dorms to campaign. And any attempt to hack into the iVote system that tracks student votes' is a highly punishable offense.
This spring semester, a second round of reforms could be forthcoming.
The election code reforms that already have been passed place limits on campaign spending -- for example, candidates for representative-at-large can't spend more than $200 on their own campaigns and executives are capped at $1,000.
Butch Oxendine, executive director of the American Student Government Association, raises free-speech concerns over the spending limits. Oxendine -- a former press secretary for a student body president at the University of Florida -- recalls the campaign spending about $15,000 in 1983-84.
"I don't like the spending limits because it limits creativity in how you raise money. You can use your smarts and creativity to raise in-kind donations," he said.
CU is not a part of the association, which is an umbrella group for student government organizations nationwide. The association has more than 1,160 member institutions.
Light-hearted -- sometimes goofy -- campaign strategies long have been a part of student government, Oxendine said. He mentioned a student at North Carolina State University who dressed like a pirate -- and who consistently kept up the persona for the campaign -- was elected student body president in 2005.
The association this spring will be researching the policies surrounding Facebook and student-government campaigns at schools across the country.
Contact Camera Staff Writer Brittany Anas at 303-473-1132 or firstname.lastname@example.org.