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Iowa State Daily

StuGov Election Commission changes rule, will share questions with candidates prior to presidential debate

Katarina Kotek
Sen. Sydney Jones (left) and Vice President Quinn Margrett (right) participate in the Iowa State Student Government Vice Presidential Debate on Feb. 6, 2024

Editor’s note: The Daily withdrew from participating in the Student Government Presidential Debate on Feb. 12 after it was discovered the Election Commission sent the questions for the vice presidential debate to the campaigns prior to it occurring, violating Daily policy.

The Iowa State Student Government Presidential Debate on Tuesday will take place with both campaigns receiving the questions beforehand.

The change comes after the Election Commission changed rules in their Constitution meant to keep the questions between the Election Commission and moderators.

The Election Commission, which answered questions as a group via email correspondence with the Daily, justified the change by citing identical clauses within their Constitution and the Student Government Bylaws which state the commission has “the authority to promulgate additional rules for the debates.” The commission stated those clauses allow them “to create new rules and procedures.”

“Within their constitution, they have the ability to create extra rules or regulations for specific instances or situations that may arise and they can add different stipulations or regulations to different sections of their constitution that they feel needed by a majority vote of their interior party,” said Maxwell Zimmerman, Chief Justice Pro Tempore of the Iowa State Student Government Supreme Court.

Zimmerman, a senior in animal ecology, said the promulgate clause within their Constitution applies to one clause but the identical promulgate clause in the Student Government Bylaws gives the commission the ability to change any part of their Constitution for the current election cycle on a majority vote.

“Prior to the debates, the debate committee shall organize a script including the questions, topics and time allocated to the respective parts. This script shall only be available to the moderators, the Debate Committee, members of the Commission, and the Election Commissioner,” the Election Commission Constitution states.

Zimmerman also said by sharing the questions with campaigns they did not violate or override the Election Commission Constitution.

“It wasn’t overriding, it was more of an addition to when it states that the script can only be sent to those individuals,” Zimmerman said. “We believe that in terms of addition, it’s more of a broad subject that can be placed so that in addition, it can also be sent to the [campaigns].”

Chase Krug, who served as Election Commission treasurer from the 2019 election through the 2022 election, said that clause “simply says that the debate committee can create additional rules not previously outlined.”

“You can’t supersede a Constitutional clause using the promulgation clause,” Krug said. “So, in my view, it is still unconstitutional to provide debate scripts to candidates.”

Krug said detailed debate rules were put into the Constitution because the Student Government Constitution, Bylaws and Election Code are “rather vague.”

“We believed that placing them in the EC Constitution would ensure that future Commissions would know the format and be able to execute smoothly,” Krug said.

Regardless of constitutionality, Krug said informing the candidates of the questions before the debate “defeats the purpose” of it.

“The purpose of a debate is to kind of allow candidates to speak extemporaneously, so giving them access to the questions I don’t think is really the point of a debate,” Krug said.

Zimmerman said the precedent set “is that each election is different” meaning the Election Commission can change any part of their Constitution for the current election cycle on a majority vote, which also includes ballot requirements for candidates, election results certification and campaign finance rules.

Holliday “shocked,” Hursh “surprised” to receive vice presidential debate questions

The two presidential candidates, Student Body President Jennifer Holliday and Finance Director Martin Hursh told the Daily that both campaigns received the vice presidential debate questions at 8:30 p.m. the day before the debate and neither campaign was expecting to receive them.

“I don’t really have any positive or negative feelings about it, it’s just something that happened,” Holliday, a senior in agricultural studies, said. “I think that each Election Commission Commissioner and their group are able to do what they feel is best for the campaign season that year.”

Hursh, a sophomore in economics, said the Election Commission has done well this year, but he is ready to talk about everything without “pre-prepared” questions.

“I’m ready to rock’n’roll, I’m excited,” Hursh said. “I’m excited for the debate and I want it to be natural.”

The Election Commission also stated no member of a campaign or Student Government asked for the questions but that they would send the candidates the presidential debate questions regardless.

Deam discusses debates

Dirk Deam, a professor of political science, said one of the criticisms of political debates is they have “lost their spontaneity.”

“One of the premium skills for somebody who is good at political representation has always been to be able to adjust to the circumstances of the moment and to think and be cool in that moment,” Deam said.

Deam also said providing questions to the candidates means they will have answers to any question and that it is not “up in the air.”

“If it’s important to representation – say in student government or any other context – it does deny your insight into the ability of the candidate to adapt to the circumstances of the moment and to deal with those in a skillful way,” Deam said. “You don’t get any insight into that from a script.”

The Student Government Presidential Debate will take place Tuesday in the Memorial Union at 6 p.m.

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