Two weeks after special elections for second-year Student Bar Association seats were clouded by reports of violations, newly elected senators Cristin Comiskey and Nefra-Ann MacDonald on Thursday began serving in their new roles.
Once sworn in, MacDonald said that because of the circumstances surrounding the election, "We really have to prove that we are deserving." Nevertheless, she went on, "I think that Cristin and I are going to be great advocates for the student body."
The election was called after two senators did not return to the law school in the fall, leaving two seats vacant and the class underrepresented. A special election was held in conjunction with first-year elections on Oct. 4 and 5, but the election commission received four official reports of violations and a slew of allegations were sent via text messages.
Election officials said they were not permitted to discuss details of the alleged violations, but decided to hold the election again. The voting took place on Monday and Tuesday and led to the swearing-in ceremony on Thursday.
Soliman, who also sits on the election commission, which is independent of SBA, said that Facebook postings were largely to blame for most of the reports of abnormalities. For the first time, the election commission had allowed campaigning through the social network site, with the goal of increasing awareness of the candidates and to entice more people to the polls.
To ensure that any such irregularities do not happen again, Soliman said she would block "any legislation or changes to the bylaws to allow campaigning via Facebook." She suggested that one of the problems was the ability of people to post a comment and then quickly delete it.
"Facebook is just too hard to regulate," she said. "If we allow it to go unregulated, it could lead to eroding the democratic system we have set in place."
In any case, Soliman added, Facebook postings did nothing to boost the number of people who voted. Thirty-eight percent of the roughly 420 second-year students voted over the two-day period, but Soliman said she would like to see that amount increase, to half of the student body. "It's sad to see low turnout again," she said.
"I would like to see 100 percent voter turnout," said Justin Diner, the student speaker. "But that takes more PR, which can be achieved through less regulation on campaigning."
Using Facebook is one way to do that, he said, adding that most of the students and senators he has polled feel the same way.
Janet E. Stearns, the dean of students, suggested that SBA members to take a hard look at the bylaws. "We should be less concerned about what happened," she said, "and more focused on what we can learn from this."