By Fritz Klug
The Western Student Association is without a president as the Election Control Board (ECB) contested the results of the 2009 presidential election over charges that the campaign of Nate Knappen and Janine Putnam violated terms of the Election Control Board.
Knappen/Putnam received 60 percent of the vote, with 1,200 votes. Stacy Nordstrand and Courtney Dunsmore got 38 percent with 800, and 40 votes were write in candidates, making up two percent. The election had a record turn out of 2,104 voters, compared to 1,800 last year.
The charges are that Knappen solicited votes with his laptop, which is against the Student Election Code (SEC). Knappen was accused of violating sections 1.4, 2.3, 3.4, 4.1, 5.1, 5.2, 5.6, 5.7, and 6.2 of the E.C.B. and was convicted of all but 2.3, 4.1 and 5.7.
The charges Knappen was convicted of are as follows:
-No candidate or agent of any candidate shall have the authority to interpret or enforce these regulations
-Candidates are responsible for reviewing and understanding the SEC. Candidates are responsible for presenting issues of confusion or contention to the Election Control Board chairperson before taking action that may be determined to be in violation of the SEC.
-Candidates shall not interfere with any election procedures in any manner.
The charges came to the attention of the ECB after overhearing conversations that Knappen was violating terms of the SEC on campus.
A cease and desist was sent out on March 16 at 4 p.m. to Knappen by e-mail, and was followed verbally at 5 p.m. Speaker of the Senate and ECB board member Andrew Ladd would not comment on whether Knappen/Putnam continued to campaign with his laptop after the warning.
Knappen said he allowed about 10 students to vote on his laptop for the candidate of their choice at the flag poles, and said he stopped as soon as the seize and desist was issued.
They then investigated the charges and sent it to the Judicial Council.
After the charges were made, the ECB sent them to the Judicial Committee for further review. They contested the election on Friday at 5:01 p.m.; the poles closed at 5 p.m.
The Judicial Council ruled that Knappen did not maliciously break the rules, but was ignorant.
“He is not completely innocent,” Katie Rollert, Chief justice of the Judicial Council, said.
The ruling will not bar Knappen or Putnam to run for elected office. They plan to run on the same ticket for the special election.
The special election will be held from 7 a.m. on April 13 to 4 p.m. on April 15. The election is open to new candidates. Letters of intent for those wishing to run are due by April 3.
“We are going to hold future candidates accountable,” Rollert said. “This makes our organization more respectable, by not looking the other way. We hope both major parties run again and see a fair election run.”
The problem, Knappen said, was a case of “misinterpretation of the ambiguous rules” of the SEC.
“The ambiguous nature of the SEC allowed the ECB to interpret the rulings against our favor,” he said. “ECB gave no warning. The ECB gave no guidance on what we could or could not do.”
“We understand, looking back, the ECB’s interpretation,” Putnam added.
Knappen said he and the Judicial Council have a different definition of what a “polling place” is.
“What it stems from is that the SEC has not been updated in accordance to the change in electronic voting,” he said. “It is very outdated.”
Ladd said the SEC was rewritten at the end of the 2008 fall semester, and portions have been revised since.
Both Knappen and Putnam said they would have stopped if they knew they were in violation of the SEC.
“Students voted for us for a reason,” Putnam said. “They believed we would not have done anything wrong. This is the last place we wanted the election to go.”
“We will have much more contact with the ECB than before,” Knappen said.
This is not the only instance election results have been contested in the WSA. history, but the first time since Chris Praedel revitalized the organization in 2006.
“I am most nervous because they might not get as high of a voter turnout,” current WSA President Danielle Harik said.
Harik’s term ends halfway through the next meeting, where the speaker of the senate will take over as interim-President until the special election is complete. She said it will be hard to hand over the reigns to an interim-president.
The interim president will be the new speaker of the senate, who will be elected at next weeks WSA meeting.
“The Judicial Council did a thorough job,” Harik said, adding, “Nate would have never been malicious.”
Not all fell that the accusations are excusable.
“The honesty and integrity of our organization has been manipulated,” said Nordstrand. “Our student body needs someone who has these qualities. Courtney and I will work our hardest to make honesty and integrity stay intact.”
Nordstrand said she was very surprised at first, and then became upset.
“We had been working so hard that when it was challenged, we were hurt,” she said. “We feel that the student body needs to know what happened.”
Nordstrand said that she and Dunsmore contacted the ECB many times over the course of campaigning to make sure they followed all the rules.
“We did it for six weeks, we can do it for three more,” Nordstrand said.
“I was surprised that the situation happened at all,” Alex Roman, a WSA senator representative from the Lee Honor College, said.
He doesn’t see support within the WSA changing for candidates, but wonders who will vote a second time for a new president.
“There should be a session to go over the rules and guidelines for candidates,” he said.
If elected, Kappen said he will have a committee set up that will totally redraft the SCE.
“We refuse to allow this hurdle to prohibit us from serving the students of WMU as we intend to run in the upcoming election,” he read from a written statement.
Other results were announced at the meeting. Proposal A, which would replace the old WSA constitution, passed by an overwhelming 91 percent margin.
“The old one died the death of 1,000 cuts,” WSA associate justice Alex Smith said. “There were pages and pages of clauses that needed substantial interpretation.” The new constitution is much
shorter and revised. Lee and his committee went over the constitution line by line for two months.
Two environmental proposals set forward by Casey Barrons, head of the Campus Concerns committee, passed unanimously.
The first was to offer an organic food option in Campus Cafes. If it is successful, organic food will be offered in residential dining halls. Barrons is working with dining services to implement these foods.
The other was a campus wide ban on plastic bags. WMU would be the only university in the state to implement such a ban.
Barrons was surprised that both initiatives passed unanimously.
“The next step is to taking this to the people who make decisions,” she said.