Obies Impact Elections, For Better or Worse
Oberlin students comprise an influential portion of the local electorate, both because there are nearly 3000 potential voters and because of their political involvement.
In this year’s local elections, students influenced two city council members decisions to drop out of the competition, resulting in an uncontested race.
Oberlin College junior Jacob Rinaldi challenged incumbent council member Sharon Soucy when she attempted to run as a write-in after failing to sign some necessary documentation. Soucy maintains that, had she “the time and money to challenge it,” she would have been able to overturn the objection, but since Rinaldi challenged her one month before the election she did not have time.
Bill Jindra also gave up his candidacy due to student involvement. His resignation stemmed, at least in part, from what he believed was an incorrect portrayal of his stance on Wal-Mart in a Review editorial.
“Students have potential to be a powerful and positive force locally,” said Soucy, despite student interference in her campaign.
She added that their potential influence places on them at least a “minimum obligation to learn issues and candidates and to give all candidates equal access,” referring to the various ways in which candidates and proponents of issues attempt to reach the student body.
Before the elections, the College Democrats set up a forum where students had a chance to hear from the different candidates.
“I was never invited, even though at that time I was a viable candidate,” said Soucy. She added that she was never invited to a meeting with any student group.
Other candidates said they were notified only two hours prior, allowing them no time to prepare.
“If [student organizers] are going to hold meetings, they need to make sure all candidates are invited and informed in a timely and equal basis,” Soucy said.
The fact that council member and Oberlin professor Eve Sandberg was notified and ready for the event led many candidates to perceive bias in the organizing process.
College junior Ezra Temko of the Jewish Advocacy Group was also a volunteer on Sandberg’s campaign. He said at the forum that candidates were free “to talk about their campaigns and give students the opportunity to volunteer if they wanted.
“A few students ended up signing up for Eve’s campaign,” he said.
Students can volunteer for campaigns, but there is a limit to their involvement. Oberlin College is a nonprofit organization, which exempts it from certain taxes. This status requires the school to be nonpartisan, and therefore, the school cannot put money directly into campaigns.
“We can’t put money directly into campaigns; we can speak to our membership, put up posters and advocate issues,” clarified College junior Charles Sohne, president of the College Democrats.
Newly-elected council member Anthony Mealy says that the school’s nonprofit status should also prevent it from giving in-kind contributions on any of the issues or candidates. An “in-kind” contribution is a donation of goods or services rather than cash.
The ethics of volunteering for a campaign of an Oberlin staff member caused debate among the candidates.
“It led to a lot of frustration about the fairness of access to students when one of the candidates is a professor,” Soucy said about students volunteering for Sandberg.
“Eve has been a fine council member,” she said. “This is [about] the broad issue of access.”
One of Eve Sandberg’s campaign fliers has also come under fire.
“We wanted to do a mailing to all students who are registered voters,” said Temko, “but the mailroom did not end up doing the mailing as they remembered that they cannot handle literature for specific candidates.”
Some of the fliers did end up in student mailboxes before the Office of College Relations stopped and recalled the distribution. The remaining fliers were left around campus and in the mailroom for students, which College Relations allows.
College Relations ensures that no political mail can go through campuswide mail, although it can go through the U.S. Postal Service with postage. If political mail were allowed through campuswide mailing, it would be much cheaper: $42 to send mail to all students through the Oberlin College mailroom as opposed to $1,091.50 to buy postage for 2,950 letters via the U.S. Postal service. To prevent such an inequality in campaign costs, etc., all campus-wide mail must be approved by the Office of College Relations.
Mealy raised additional concerns as to whether the student group Jewish Activist Group had paid for Sandberg’s fliers.
“JAG had nothing to do with Eve’s literature,” responded Temko. “If Eve’s literature had ended up in mailboxes, it would have been by her campaign paying for it.”
An e-mail sent out to the registered student body by councilman Dan Gardner against Issue 55, the Living Wage, caused additional campaign controversy. Mealy called this e-mail “an abuse.”
“The Board of Elections does not provide e-mail lists for anybody,” he said.
While the Lorain County Board of Elections does not provide email lists, it does provide the names and OCMRs of registered voters, so student e-mails can be ascertained by using the well-known formula: First Name.LastName@Oberlin.edu.
Despite allegations of harmful student interference, Sohne spoke about the elections optimistically.
“This was yet another election in which Oberlin students, the town
residents and people from the surrounding area proved to be a sort of bright
spot across Ohio,” he said. “Statewide ‘Reform Ohio Now’
elections failed whereas local levies supporting the school, children’s
services and the library all passed.”