Samantha Smith

Armed with a website and a petition, Abolish SG has taken on the Jeffersonian “obligation” to cleanse Student Government of its alleged impurities or dismantle it entirely.

Samantha Smith, Middle Eastern studies junior and the movement’s leader, calls for the nullification of last month’s election results or the annihilation of SG as a whole. The group’s website contains embarrassing and unprofessional emails from several members of the Election Supervisory Board (ESB) and a graphic depicting former ESB chairman Eric Nimmer’s various involvements in SG. It also shows incriminating screenshots of a Facebook message sent by newly elected SG President Thor Lund well before the official campaigning period began. In it, he asks some 21 friends for help with his and running mate Wills Brown’s campaign but warns them that this recruitment is against election code regulations.

Abolish SG threatens that if it amasses 1,000 signatures or if “the assembly fails to impeach and appoint at the next meeting,” it will release a roster of the Eyes of Texas, a secret society at the University, and “reveal” two administrators for unspecified offenses. “Vigilante democracy” may be a bit of an oxymoron, but that’s just what Smith and her unnamed associates appear to be attempting.

Of course, the group’s insistence on transparent, representative democracy strikes a deeply American chord within us all, and its motto, “democracy isn’t guaranteed, it’s earned and protected,” is — comma splice notwithstanding — a truism for the ages. The website shows evidence of some solid investigative journalism, particularly with regard to the record of mutual support between Judicial Court Chief Justice Alden Harris and SG law school representative Austin Carlson, who filed the complaints that got the Madison Gardner and Antonio Guevara executive alliance disqualified for the second time. Additionally, Abolish SG’s call to reallocate all SG funds to scholarships is particularly tempting in these rough economic times.

However, Abolish SG has critical weaknesses much less apparent than its misspellings and tabloid-style personal attacks against student leaders. Most importantly, the petition fails to mention legitimate concerns about conflicts of interest and underhanded dealings; instead, it cites the disqualification of “all underrepresented candidates” from last month’s executive alliance election as the driving force behind the initiative. This not only distracts attention from the real issues but also levels unsubstantiated charges of racism and sexism against the ESB, whose vice-chair Truc Nguyen is both a woman and a minority. As Nguyen and other ESB members point out in a video on The Daily Texan, Abolish SG goes too far in suggesting that the board’s decisions were influenced by the demographic characteristics of candidates. Watchdog groups have every right to criticize and petition as long as the criticisms remain civil and justifiable.

Second, Abolish SG does not cite its sources for the Facebook screenshots or list of Eyes members. Smith and Co. could be treading on thin legal ice if they fail to show that they obtained their information legitimately and from willing sources. Additionally, Lund and Brown are the only executive alliance to receive an online expose. If Abolish SG truly favors a second election in which all disqualified candidates would be reinstated, it should critically investigate them all.

To be sure, the overarching demand for fair representation that drives Abolish SG is not without potential. Handled in a more professional manner, an investigation of SG and its election procedures could raise important questions about the role of government in a university setting and the responsibilities of those who govern. Clearly, the ESB and SG’s Judicial Court and legislative branch are unduly entangled through common members, personal connections and questionable interests.

However, Abolish SG has even less credibility than SG itself. An audit of SG practices and a reform of its electoral system should come not from a rogue Tumblr account but from an independent committee appointed by the Office of the Dean of Students. Impassioned students are often the drivers of important reforms, but they need the backing of the University and a standard of professional accountability in order to achieve anything more substantial than short-lived publicity.

Oliver is an English and sociology freshman.

President-elect Thor Lund, left, and vice president-elect Wills Brown, right, prepare to be sworn in by outgoing president Natalie Butler and vice-president Ashley Baker Tuesday afternoon during the first assembly of the newly elected Student Government.

Photo Credit: Thomas Allison | Daily Texan Staff

The challenges of the six-week election still reverberated as the new Student Government General Assembly took their place as the elected student voice of the University in its first meeting Tuesday.

Outgoing President Natalie Butler and Vice President Ashley Baker swore in president-elect Thor Lund and vice president-elect Wills Brown at the meeting. Although Lund’s victory last Thursday brought an end to one of the longest elections in recent years, the decisions transpiring throughout the election cycle will remain on SG’s agenda for some time.

From now on, the SG Election Code, Internal Rules and Bylaws and Constitution will be reviewed by the UT Office of the Vice President of Legal Affairs, said Dean of Students Soncia Reagins-Lilly.

Reagins-Lilly said Friday the Office of the Dean of Students will work with Lund, Brown and the new SG General Assembly to address concerns and clarify the Election Code, the document governing the campus-wide general elections.

“It’s important to have these governing documents reviewed by UT legal or a designated legal office,” Reagins-Lilly said. “It’s a great responsibility to sit with all those documents and make sure we’re all satisfied.”

The prolonged election brought about the lowest voter turnout for president and vice president in the past three years. With 4,483 votes cast, voter turnout decreased 41 percent compared to last year, in which 7,883 voted. In 2010, 8,654 students voted. Less than 10 percent of the student body voted in the race between Lund and opponent John Lawler.

Madison Gardner, a former SG presidential candidate, filed a lawsuit against UT on Feb. 27 and argued the Election Code provision that led to his first disqualification violated his constitutional rights to freedom of association under the First Amendment.

In addition to the Election Code review, one student has recently started a petition to redo the SG elections or abolish SG altogether.

Samantha Smith, a Middle Eastern studies junior, claims she is one among many students feeling disenfranchised by the decisions of the board and Judicial Court, who disqualified both Gardner and former candidate Yaman Desai. She said she felt the entities were biased. Smith said a petition to recall the election or abolish SG has more than 200 signatures but did not provide evidence to The Daily Texan.

Smith said Monday she became the face of Abolish SG because other students do not want to come forward since they are still gathering information to prove the board and court’s bias. She said she previously supported candidates Desai and Gardner and had to revaluate her vote after each got disqualified.

At the meeting, Smith apologized for using the word “abolish” in her initiative and said she wanted to work with SG to rewrite the Election Code and restructure the Judicial Branch and Election Supervisory Board.

“I have full faith in all the University representatives, and I apologize for the light I shone on you — I am behind Thor/Wills,” Smith said. “I am not the sole person behind Abolish SG and I think this a fair recollection of the process and recollections of the student body.”

Eric Nimmer, Election Supervisory Board chair, said in an email addressed to Smith and others that he and other members of the board were upset because Smith did not present the full facts of the case in her petition.

“We are not dissatisfied with your cause because of what your cause calls for,” Nimmer said in the email. “Many of us would probably sign up if it was that simple, but it was the way you try to get to your end.”

Daniel Hung, agency director of the Students With Disabilities Agency of SG, said the image of SG has been damaged because of the prolonged elections.

He said he does not approve of the Abolish SG campaign because many students do not know what SG does on campus and how it positively impacts students.

In addition to funding Students With Disabilities, SG also has agencies to engage students in civic participation and provide representation to underrepresented students, among others.

“I think after this election there’s definitely been a loss of trust in SG,” Hung said. “I believe [the Election Supervisory Board and Judicial Board] are separate from the other parts of SG, which I’m a part of.”

Printed on Wednesday, April 4, 2012 as: Lund, Brown sworn in as questions linger