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KU Student Body's "Burritogate" saga roils on, but end could be near
Another chapter in the Kansas University student body "Burritogate" saga was written Thursday.
Its authors were the University Judicial Board, a body of faculty, staff and students that resolves "to whatever extent possible" conflicts, complaints and grievances brought before them.
The board had the final say on the matter of the Jayhawkers' disqualification from the student elections earlier this month.
On Thursday they upheld the disqualification, a move that will free the Election Commission to finally release the results of the student elections held two weeks ago. Jake Rapp, chairman of the commission, said in an email that the commission will do so by Monday.
As many on the hill probably know by now, the Student Senate Election Commission disqualified the Jayhawkers days before the election, though they remained on the ballot for the election.
Another coalition, Grow KU, alleged that Jayhawkers spent $300 at Chipotle to woo potential voters and then failed to report the expense to the commission. The Election Commission agreed, and disqualified the Jayhawkers, per new rules passed by the Senate in the fall.
The Jayhawkers appealed to the student government's judicial branch, which resulted in an injunction that has kept the election results under lock and key thus far.
The case then got kicked to the University Judicial Board. With no one disputing the burrito money itself, Thursday's decision by the board boiled down to definition of the word "campaigning."
In its decision, the board said the Jayhawkers "argue that the term is limited to activity that is designed to win over undecided potential voters." The Jayhawkers contended that all who attended the burrito party had already expressed interest in the coalition, and so they were engaged in fomenting party leadership, not trying to win over voters.
The commission and board disagreed, citing evidence that general information about the Jayhawkers platform was dispensed at the burrito summit — something not likely to take place at an intra-coalition strategy session of insiders.
The Jayhawkers alleged that the commission had applied new campaigning restrictions arbitrarily, noting events where Grow KU offered free cappuccino and snacks to event-goers. But the board said the cappuccino, in the one case, didn't represent an incurred expense (they were available to all via a nearby cappuccino machine); the snacks, in the other case, the board said were given at a meeting that did not involve campaigning, and so did not need to be reported.
The Jayhawkers were among three coalitions that formed to launch students into student government for the next school year. Student coalitions have a long history of "conflicts, complaints and grievances" in student elections.
They are formed by likeminded students who want to pool their resources to run for student government on a common platform. They exist as campaigning entities. They are not meant to govern.
One coalition, KUnited, dominated KU student elections for nearly two decades, a streak broken last year by Ad Astra. Moreover, elections were often punctuated by squabbles and questionable campaign practices.
Last fall student body executives Marcus Tetwiler and Emma Halling and some senators advocated for ending the coalition system altogether, but they were rebuffed by the full Senate. However the Senate did pass new regulations on campaigning, including spending limits, meant to make elections more fair and meaningful. The new rules include the ones the Jayhawkers broke.
The Board thinks perhaps the rules themselves go too far.
Concluding their decision, the Board said:
We are admittedly not experts in student elections. Still, the extreme remedy of party disqualification seems to us disproportionate to the severity of the violation and arbitrarily insensitive to the Jayhawkers' effort to cure any violation. But the source of these problems, it seems to us, is the inflexibility of the pertinent regulations rather than any arbitrariness on the part of the Commission.
On Monday we should see which coalition was chosen by the student body to lead next year. Depending on the vote, there could be more Burritogate drama ahead.