By SEAN BATURA
Chris Covo, the Associated Student Government’s (ASG) city council liaison, easily won election as ASG President Tuesday night, taking nearly two-thirds of the vote in a three-way race.
Covo won 62.8 percent of the vote, followed by Trenton Thomas at 20.2 percent and Brice Loving with 16.5 percent.
Tommy Luna, Covo’s preference for vice president, ran unopposed for most of the race after Edwin Maldanado was disqualified. Luna took 97.4 percent of the vote, with write-in candidate Sean las Robles managing 1.2 percent.
Voter turnout was 16 percent of the eligible student voters.
Voting for ASG candidates was conducted electronically by Internet during a two-day period, affording registered students the ability to cast ballots from anywhere in the world.
Election commissioner and Texas State student Austin Shelton said there were no violations of the ASG Election Code during the election, unlike past elections. Shelton said that during the last two years he has been a commissioner, ASG candidates and their supporters have established unofficial polling locations equipped with laptops connected to the Internet via the university-wide free wireless local area network.
“That’s where a majority of votes come from,” Shelton said. “They come from the campaigns. The more manpower that (candidates) have running around campus (with laptops), probably a better chance they’re having (in) getting the votes.”
Covo’s campaign had three unofficial polling locations and Thomas had two. Loving’s supporters utilized an open-use computer lab in the McCoy Business building. Thomas’ tent in the Quad featured up to five laptops. There were two official ASG polling locations, each with two laptops.
“We think it’s an advantage for campaigns to be able to do what they do,” Shelton said. “That way they can reach a lot more people and there’s not huge lines at the official ASG locations … If everybody on campus was actually trying to vote just at the two official spots, it’d be so crowded.”
Candidates and their supporters were barred from campaigning closer than 50 feet from official polling locations. The five unofficial polling locations featured campaign banners and other materials. Supporters would invite passersby to take the opportunity to vote immediately, and would then regale a compliant student with reasons why their chosen candidate outshone the rest.
Thomas’ supporters offered free hot dogs to prospective voters at one unofficial polling place — though not explicitly on the condition that voters cast ballots for him. Supporters of Covo and Loving traversed the campus with laptops, hunting for votes. Shelton warned two laptop-bearing Covo supporters away from the official polling station at the LBJ Student Center in the last hours of the election.
“I’ve always been opposed to online voting,” said Texas State Senior Lecturer Patricia Parent, PhD, who specializes in Campaigns and Elections. “I don’t believe it’s a good thing in the general elections, and we can see from what’s happened here at Texas State (that) it really isn’t in the best interest of fairness.”
Senior Lecturer Rick Henderson, M.A., whose area of focus is state and local politics, said he is more concerned about low voter turnout than by offers of free food at campaign-sponsored polling locations.
“If we had like ten or fifteen thousand people turn out, and it seemed to be obvious that many voters might be lured to vote for somebody for a free breakfast taco or something like that, then it would bother me,” Henderson said. “But just trying to get people to vote, I’m not too upset by it.”
Parent said vote hunting with laptops and candidates establishing polling locations and offering free food makes for less deliberation in the minds of potential student voters and “violates the spirit of a fair polling place,” while “taking away from the sanctity of the ballot box.”
U.S. federal, state and local laws, in addition to international election monitoring organizations, prohibit political campaigns from controlling machines on which votes for public office are to be cast, and ban election material from polling sites.
ASG is funded by mandatory student fees. Its annual budget is between $33,000 and $35,000.
“I think there are probably a large number of students who haven’t paid any attention to the election whatsoever, but if someone gives them a free hot dog or stops to talk to them and they happen to think that whoever is speaking to them is attractive or something, they’ll stop and have a conversation and then vote, and not really care,” Parent said. “Those student body elections have very low turnout rates anyway, and while they may say, ‘Well, this increases the turnout rate,’ the question really is, ‘To what end? What kind of voter do you want?'”
Henderson said he is concerned that some voters might feel pressured to cast a ballot for a candidate whose supporter had wandered into the same room with a laptop, offering a chance to vote immediately. He said campaigners traveling around campus with laptops should offer prospective voters some assurance of privacy while they cast their votes if they want to choose a different candidate.
Parent said the university should only allow official, neutral polling locations on campus or abolish Internet-based voting.
Winning the presidency, Covo said he planned for his candidacy last fall.
“I’ve worked real hard,” he said. “It’s kind of unreal that it actually happened.”
Covo said he wants to begin work with Achieving Community Together (ACT), an organization composed of students and staff members from the university and San Marcos city government. ACT, according to its website, constitutes a collaborative effort of the university and the city to work together on common values, mission, and goals.
“I want to get that started now,” Covo said, “because I have the ability to sit on it now and get that going. Right now I need to kind of focus in and get back to my grades, and get ready to do a good job next year.”
Loving and Thomas, both ASG senators, each planned to continue campaign initiatives.
“(I’m) still looking to get our platform implemented through, whether it be legislation, talks with Chris, talks with the alumni here and the Athletic Marketing Department and the Mentoring Program,” said Thomas. “These are definitely things that we feel passionate about. It’s only begun.”
Thomas said he will pursue his goal of getting Texas State classified as Football Bowl Series football (FBS), and organizing a forum for students and ASG members to share ideas and concerns.
Loving’s initiatives include a text-messaging system to facilitate better communication between students and ASG and a “marketing re-branding campaign for Greek life” to get more students involved in community service.Email | Print