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Explaining the University Board of Elections

Formation, features, flaws of UBE

As the University approaches a new election cycle, both students and candidates will depend on the University Board of Elections to facilitate the process of electing the newest class of student leaders on Grounds.

What exactly is UBE?

UBE oversees the annual elections for Class Council, Student Council, the Honor Committee and the University Judiciary Committee. Like Student Council and the Honor Committee, UBE is a special status organization, which grants it funding, office space and administrative assistance.

UBE was founded in 2003 in an attempt to restore order to the University elections process following a particularly tumultuous election cycle. In that cycle, Daisy Lundy, a then-second-year College student, was assaulted by an unnamed figure during her campaign for Student Council president. The attacker allegedly used racial slurs implicating her Lundy’s African-American and Korean heritage.

That same fall, the University Law School — in accordance with University administration — published a comprehensive report in response to that incident. The report outlined other significant alleged malfeasance within student government, including the Elections Committee — UBE’s predecessor — which neither maintained the 10 member requirement outlined by Student Council bylaws nor reached a quorum a single time that year. These infractions were allegedly known at the time by executive members of Student Council.

“The University Board of Elections (UBE) is the Special Status Organization created to regulate and conduct student elections and referenda at the University of Virginia,” UBE’s website states. “The UBE was established in the Fall of 2003 to further the aims of student self-governance within a community of trust and honor and to supervise all University-wide student elections.”

Structure and authority

UBE is comprised of a board of up to 11 members — a chair, vice chairs and liaison positions.

The members of UBE are appointed through an application process which includes feedback from both outgoing chairs of the organizations under UBE’s umbrella of authority, as well as at least one dean.

UBE Chair Krishna Korupolu, a third-year Commerce student, said the application process is open to the entire student body. However, no student who serves on UBE may be a member of any organizations which are either under their oversight or who coordinates endorsements through UBE.

UBE derives its authority from the Board of Visitors and the Office of the President. Korupolu said, however, that UBE is fairly autonomous. He said the only interaction between UBE and the Board of Visitors would be the result of a major problem, a situation which Korupolu said has he has not encountered.

As a special status organization, UBE is delegated authority from the University to organize and facilitate student elections, an integral function of student self-governance. Marshall Pattie, an associate dean of students, elaborated on the distinction between the Board of Elections and other organizations on Grounds.

“They are relatively autonomous,” Pattie said. “Special status organizations [have autonomy] that other institutions would have handled by administrators”.

Their most direct point of contact with administration is through Alyssa King, the program coordinator for student activities in the Office of the Dean of Students, who has weekly meetings with the Board of Elections.

Second-year College student Sara Kropp, UBE vice chair of outreach, marketing and events, described King’s role as advisory. Specifically, Kropp said King is a legal resource, and serves as a point of reference in the case of a disagreement between the two organizations. If UBE was not meeting University expectations, King would step in.

“[King] is more of a resource during elections,” Kropp said. “She is there more for legal purposes, if there were a problem with the candidate”.

Expense allocation

Each year, the Board of Elections must present a proposed budget of annual operating costs to the Office of the Dean of Students and Vice President, from whom they receive funding.

Korupolu said their annual budget is designed to cover costs for information technology, marketing and a grant program they provide to cover candidate expenses, which is operated on a reimbursement basis.

Korupolu said this year has seen an increase in grant applications, which he attributed to the increased volume of candidates as a product of more contested races.

Candidates are bound by UBE regulations to report any spending over $15 on campaigning materials. However, Korupolu said there is nothing within the rules or regulations outlining what candidates can or cannot spend on.

Inefficiencies

A significant portion of UBE involves communicating campaigning guidelines to potential candidates, as well as coordinating with organizations such as the Minority Rights Coalition, the Black Student Alliance and the Cavalier Daily in order to facilitate endorsements in an effort to market increased contestation.

Despite Korupolu’s claim that the the goal of the UBE is to make the process of candidacy easier to facilitate, some student leaders and members of student government organizations claim UBE’s communication capacity was unhelpful.

Minority Rights Coalition Chair Blake Calhoun, a fourth-year College student, said UBE communication hindered endorsement processes.

“Their communication hasn’t been phenomenal — it’s a lot of me asking them what I have to do,” Calhoun said. “There wasn’t much info out there. At first, I was pretty frustrated, the dates for turnaround with endorsements were very tight. The deadlines were extended, but initially there was a very rushed turnaround. It just didn’t seem incredibly efficient on my end”.

Fourth-year College student Henley Hopkinson, Honor Committee vice chair for investigation, filed his campaign through the Board of Elections for the Spring 2014 election cycle. Hopkinson expressed similar concerns regarding UBE’s transparency.

“I thought the guidelines pertaining to listerves was concerning, but I reached out to them and they clarified it,” Hopkinson said. “I thought [the process] was fairly efficient, but I have heard some people who thought it was inefficient.”

UBE also has a history of technical malfunctions, particularly pertaining to the online voting system. Korupolu said technological difficulties in the past have been a result of an overcrowding of University servers. This year UBE hopes to achieve an incident-free voting period.

UBE attempted to address this problem by unveiling “Big Pulse,” a high-security electronic voting system first contracted by the University for the Spring 2014 election cycle. The new system, which operates independently from University servers, is designed to increase the efficiency of the voting process.

Korupolu praised the many upsides of the new system, including the ability to track members of the student body during the voting period who have not yet voted. UBE said it hopes to utilize this resource to send out final reminder emails two days before the voting period concludes.

“It has made the process much cleaner,” Korupolu said. “Last year there was an issue with the server going down. Most of the time, its an issue with the Virginia servers themselves.”

Encouraging contestation

While many student-elected positions have gone unopposed in the past, Korupolu said UBE’s major concern for the 2015 elections season was to ensure that all races are contested. The spring 2014 election cycle prompted this goal because of the uncontested Student Council president election as well as various other uncontested elections.

Korupolu said UBE recently adopted an online quiz required for candidates to take, as well as a mandatory information session potential candidates were required to attend before filing their petitions for candidacy.

Third Year Council President Jack Vallar, a third-year College student, is running for re-election as Fourth Year Trustees President. Vallar praised UBE for ensuring candidates were committed to their campaigns.

“My experience has been that it has made me more proactive as a candidate,” Vallar said. “Forcing kids to get petitions at least shows they are committed to the campaign. It’s important to get people on the ballot — a contested election at least forces candidates to say something as to why they should get elected.”

Most races for this election cycle were contested.

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