After several weeks of discussion between the Academic Senate and Executive Council, the Utah State University Student Association (USUSA) voted to change the USUSA election bylaws — the rules governing campaign procedures for USUSA candidates.
Though the by-laws are reviewed and updated each year, the 2018-19 guidelines received a more dramatic overhaul than usual, because USU’s legal counsel realized the previous rules restricted the school’s free speech policy.
“Some of the things were kind of restrictive, and we want to make sure that all of the students not only maintain their right to free speech, but also we don’t want to restrict their creativity,” said Rebecca Thomas, the current USUSA S.J. and Jessie E. Quinney College of Natural Resources senator, and co-chair of the USUSA elections committee.
Though the document saw several changes, some of the most notable involved the dismantling of social media restrictions, mass-messaging rules and a policy change regarding yard signs around campus and electric signs on campus televisions.
In previous years, candidates were prohibited from “published/broadcasting campaign materials,” such as “social media, video flyers, shirts, etc,” before elections week, which will take place Feb. 25 at 3 p.m. through March 1 at 8 p.m.
However, candidates now have freedom to promote themselves on social media prior to elections week, as well as post electronic and paper signs throughout campus buildings, though signs must be in accordance with each respective building’s policy.
Similarly, “the use of electronic mail to actively campaign and solicit votes” was prohibited in previous elections, and is now allowed, so long as candidates do not use official USU accounts to obtain contact information or spread messages.
Though candidates must take initiative to display campaign materials around campus buildings, the bylaws do not restrict building administrators from rejecting a candidate’s request.
“We’d hope that people would be fair, but there’s nothing that right now keeps (administrators) from discriminating,” said Spencer Perry, current USUSA public relations and marketing director, and co-chair of the elections committee.
In previous years, current USUSA officers were required to remain neutral when discussing candidates. However, this year’s officers are now able to support candidates, though USUSA Hearing Board members — who decide penalties for candidates that have broken campaign rules — are prohibited from doing so.
“We want to make sure all of our students get to maintain that right to free speech,” Thomas said.
In the 2017-18 election, 10 grievances were filed against various candidates, said Krystin Deschamps, director of student conduct and chairwoman of the USUSA Hearing Board.
“I kind of think maybe there will be fewer grievances this year than last year, because there are less restrictions, because there are a lot more things that (candidates) are open to doing now,” Thomas said.
While election bylaws are normally written and overseen by current USUSA officers and advisers in the Student Involvement and Leadership Center, USU legal counsel joined the writing process this year.
“It’s been a really collaborative process,” Thomas said.
Thomas added Dale Anderson, associate general counsel, chose to be involved because the university is “looking to adopt a campus free speech policy.”
In an email to the Statesman, Andersen declined to comment on specifics of the policy, but said “I can share that USU is currently working towards a proposed policy that would collapse and centralize all free speech policies into one University-wide policy.”