A&M should take a stand and improve on campus election guidelines
The rights and liberties Americans enjoy came at a great price. For centuries, patriots have fought and died to protect the freedoms making this country unique. Now some students believe their rights have been stripped by the Texas A&M election commission.
Since election regulations at the University of Texas have come under legal scrutiny, the Student Body President and election commission should carefully analyze A&M's regulations to be sure students' rights are being protected.
Each candidate in the upcoming student body election must abide by the 20-page packet of election guidelines. These rules restrict everything from flier size and placement to contribution and spending limits. Any candidate who violates a rule is subject to fines or disqualification.
Some students maintain these rules infringe on their basic right to free speech.
The University of Texas dealt with a similar complaint in February. Like A&M, UT limits the amount of time a candidate may campaign. Anyone campaigning before the official start date is subject to reprimand. Marc Levin, a candidate for vice president on UT's ACTION ticket said their party chose to ignore this regulation, holding campaign rallies and writing letters to the editors of both school and local papers asking for votes. After the students were disqualified from the election, the American Civil Liberties Union came to their defense. An ACLU lawyer filed a temporary restraining order forcing the Student Government to reinstate the candidates until the matter could be decided in court.
The new Student Body President has promised to rewrite the election regulations, but Levin said if the regulations are not changed by this summer, further legal action may ensue.
In light of the proceedings at UT, A&M's election regulations deserve closer examination. Aggies have begun questioning several election guidelines including time limits, spending limits and the prohibition of off-campus campaigning.
Jason Jaynes, election commissioner, said he does not believe the regulations are a violation of free speech, but if he felt rights were being breached he would not enforce the rules. Jaynes said he feels students get tired of the campaigning, and ten days is sufficient time to campaign in a University election.
Opponents of the time limit argue they cannot communicate a substantive platform to the student body in ten days. If candidates were allowed to spread their campaign efforts over a larger time period, students might not be inundated with material during such a short period. This change might make elections less hectic and annoying.
Currently the challenge of reaching thousands of students in ten days is amplified by the spending limits imposed on all candidates. The Supreme Court case Marbury vs. Madison determined that campaign spending limits were a violation of free speech, and the same reasoning should be applied to A&M's student body elections.
Supporters of the spending limits claim the restraints make the candidates more equal, but someone should not be stripped of their rights in an attempt to remove disparity. Besides, inequalities between candidates will always exist. Some candidates are more charismatic than others, some better looking. The candidates are not equal, and that is no reason to violate their freedoms.
Candidates have wrestled with these guidelines for many years, but this election has presented new rules. The election commission told candidates this semester they may not post signs off-campus, even on private property or in businesses. Off-campus regulation is clearly outside the scope of election commission's authority, and even though the city of College Station has a city ordinance prohibiting signs, the rule is not uniformly enforced.
Dale Baum, president of the Brazos Civil Liberties Union, has been informed of the possible free speech violations and said the chapter is interested in looking into the matter.
The University has seen enough legal problems recently, this is a situation Student Government members can resolve before it grows out of control. The election regulations should be overhauled as soon as possible, unless A&M wants to lag behind the University of Texas.