COVID-19 Era Student Government Elections Lead to Rule Violations, Near Sweep

by Anna Woods, Asst. News & Asst. Features Editor 

Prior to the end of last semester, Student Government held their annual executive board elections. The election resulted in campaign violations which caused a party’s disqualification, and delayed results. Despite the chaos, ultimately it was a large majority of the members of the  Bronx Party — led by president Shannon Gleba — who won the election. 

The other positions filled are as follows:  Anthony Bradley, executive vice president, Isabel Gardner, vice president for social life, DeVaughn Harris, vice president for residential affairs, Amanda Arroyo, vice president for commuter affairs, Alex Nieves, vice president for finance, Peter Janny, vice president for communication, Ella O’Brien, vice president for academic affairs, Alexa Schmidt, vice president for club administration.

“Just Jaspers, “Jasper Town (J-Town)”, and the “Bronx Party,” were the three parties that ran for a position on the 2020-2021 executive board. 

The announcement delaying election results posted by @mcstudgov on April 21,2020 MANHATTAN SGA / COURTESY

Gardner originally ran as a member of “Just Jaspers” but managed to beat out junior Michael Rafferty who ran for the position with the Bronx Party. 

Right as campaigning was about to begin for the three eager boards, the student body was sent home due to the pandemic. All parties had to adapt to the pandemic and rework their campaign strategies that were planned prior to the closure, bringing unprecedented challenges to students who ran. 

“It was a very interesting experience having to campaign during a time when we could not connect with the students in person,” said Shannon Gleba.  

Gleba, a senior studying public health with a concentration in healthcare administration, discussed how technology has been the best way to reach students in the past, making this year no different. 

“However, I feel as if social media campaigning has become much more prominent in the past number of years, so we had a good blueprint of how it would work. Thankfully my board was able to meet on campus before we were sent home, so we all knew each other and could connect over the phone with a better idea of what we were each like in person,” said Gleba.

John Bennett, Director of Student Engagement, shared that the college’s election processes fortunately did not have to be altered too much. 

“The pandemic didn’t change too much of the election itself because we had made the transition a few years ago to online voting,” said Bennett. “When we make any changes [to the rules] it’s acutely your fellow students in student government that are in control. We help the process along and make sure that what is being done is appropriate. And within the guidelines with the student government realm. We back them with what they want to do.”

Bennett believed the biggest challenge was how the shift to online campaigning altered the possibility of other students running. 

“It was a challenge in a sense that you don’t know [what] kept people from running,” he said. “Maybe other people were on the fence about it and would’ve put their toes in the water if we were on campus … maybe we could’ve talked them into it. So I feel like the unknown aspect kind of hurt. But in the same token the amount of students who voted was the same number every year.” 

 Fortunately, the pandemic did not hinder the percentage of students who voted. According to John Bennett, the average percentage of students who vote in student government elections nationwide is about five percent. This year about 20 percent of Manhattan College students voted, which is typical of the school. For the past couple of years typically 20 to 25 percent of Manhattan students vote.

While the election seemed to be running fairly smoothly during the 24-hour voting period, towards the end of the voting period, controversy arose as teams were discovered to have violated campaign rules.

When students make the decision to run as a candidate they are required to thoroughly read official ”Election Rules and Guidelines” paperwork. There are also information sessions that are held to explain the rules further. The  rules are set in place to ensure that the election is fair. In order to give candidates fair warning, the rules are presented to students two weeks prior to the start of the campaign period. This election, the rules came into play more than ever. 

Jasper Town, led by senior Nicole Diaz, received a third party endorsement that was swiftly brought to the attention of the elections committee, which is made of outgoing members of the current executive board. The endorsement came from the popular bar and restaurant, Fontenova Tapas & Tacos, located at 216 W 242 St. 

The endorsement posts from the Fontenova Tapas and Tacos Instagram. @FONTENOVATAPAS / COURTESY

The restaurant posted pictures of the Jasper Town party on their Instagram Stories. The post on their story tagged the party’s campaign account and was captioned “#VOTEJTOWN” with a “Please Vote” sticker. They also posted a photo on their main account with the caption “Fontenova is a proud supporter of the J-Town eBoard student government campaign at Manhattan College! Please support by sharing this post! #VoteJTown.” The Instagram account boasts 847 followers, a significant portion of whom are Manhattan College students. 

The guidelines specifically outline that “no campaign materials may be posted or distributed off campus (including bars and restaurants).” Another rule states that “any outside endorsements, sponsorships, or gifts are strictly prohibited.” 

Additionally, students are expected to maintain social media accounts that are only used for campaign purposes and they are not allowed to post information about their election or campaign on any other accounts.

John Bennett explained why the bar and restaurant rule is set in place.

“The reason why the bar and restaurant aspect is on there too is to not promote underage drinking,” he said. “Most of the candidates were under 21 and seniors are not allowed to vote in the election anyway. So there’s a few different reasons why that rule has been set in place for years, it’s not something new.”

Diaz is a senior majoring in international relations and political science with a minor in Spanish, and was the presidential candidate for Jasper Town.  She explained that when the opportunity to have Fontenova endorse them arose, they immediately seized the opportunity. 

“Our reaction was ‘yeah why not’, never thinking about anything else other than, we want students to know that we’re a team that’s running and we want to get the word out for them just to hear our initiatives,” she said. “ It just had never crossed our minds, even when calling the shots, that it was going to be a problem with the rules or that more than that that it would get twisted in a really toxic horrible, negative manner that we would be promoting underage drinking.”

Diaz owned up to the violation and explained that they were trying to campaign in the most efficient way, given the circumstances.