Like most freshmen, Blake Paulson didn’t know how to plan his classes his first semester and ended up with night classes.
He also wanted to join the Minnesota Student Association that semester.
“Student government is really something I wanted to be involved with when I was here,” he said.
But he found out that the MSA met Tuesday nights, when he had a night class, so he put the idea on pause for a semester.
This semester, Paulson made sure there was space in his schedule for the MSA. When the MSA sent out an all-campus email in February encouraging students to run for student government, Paulson began his work on his application for candidacy.
However, the email had gone out on February 8, two days before the deadline. Paulson didn’t think he could write up a good candidate statement in time. But he noticed the application form from the All-Campus Elections Commission (ACEC), the student group part of Student Unions and Activities charged to handle elections, said he could submit the application and add campaign statements later.
He submitted his application for candidacy without his statements. Later, he completed a candidate orientation session, as was required of every candidate from ACEC, though he decided to do his online and not in person.
He thought he did everything right, and he did. Since the election, it has become clear, through talking to numerous candidates, MSA staff members and an ACEC commissioner, the ACEC made missteps almost every step of the way: documents were lost, transparency was ignored and rules were broken.
This wasn’t the first year this happened, but this year’s election glaringly brought out problems with the ACEC and our campus elections. Besides a holdover graduate adviser, SUA hired all new commissioners this year. Yet, issues still persisted and voter engagement still fell, as it did in years past.
Now, about that pesky campaign statement.
On March 3, Paulson emailed his statement to the ACEC email. After criticism last year, the ACEC committed itself to responding to all candidate emails within 24 hours. Yet, no one responded, and his candidate statement never appeared on the Google Sheet where all other candidates’ statements appeared.
Four days later, and four days before elections would begin, he emailed the ACEC again, asking where his statement was. A commissioner in the ACEC responded, apologizing for losing his email.
“Then, all of a sudden they found my statement and published it after I had to follow up again,” Paulson said.
On March 11, the first day of campus elections, his campaign statement was on the ACEC Google Sheet, but it wasn’t on the actual voting ballot. Paulson was worried. He fired off another email to the ACEC that morning.
“I see this as a serious and unfair disadvantage to me as a candidate,” his email said.
An ACEC commissioner quickly responded and told him that his candidate statement — the main way that MSA candidates can communicate their values — was now up.
Now, Paulson was on the ballot. But, eight hours later, the ACEC emailed him again, saying there was another clerical error.
The ACEC had forgotten to contact Paulson about adding him to the ACEC voter guide, which displayed pictures, names and candidates’ answers to questions. Other candidates were in the guide, but not Paulson.
In his reply to the ACEC’s voter guide email the next day, he said “I hope no other candidate was a part of a clerical error like this and that everyone is experiencing a fair and effective election week.”
As he later learned, he wasn’t alone.
Out of 31 candidates for the at-large representative seats, eight others weren’t on that voter guide ACEC released.