Phi Mu’s bloc voting, election fairness

Ngoc Vo

Multiple sources, named and unnamed, said organizational politics were involved in the homecoming court election.

A student from the College of Communication and Fine Arts, who wished not to be named, said that during her chapter meeting at Phi Mu, the members decided on the five Phi Mu candidates that the chapter members would vote for on election day.

Only five candidates could be chosen for homecoming court. This year, there were six candidates who are Phi Mu members.

According to the student, each Phi Mu member was asked before the election to bring two nonmembers to come and vote for homecoming. She said as proof, members were told to bring back three “I voted today” stickers, which were given out at the SGA office on election day. She said that about halfway through election day, however, members were told they did not have to bring back the stickers.

Amanda Lewis, a Phi Mu alumna who graduated from Troy in May 2014, said a similar process occurred when she ran for homecoming court in 2013. She said seven members of Phi Mu were nominated that year.

Lewis said that, as far as she was aware, bloc voting has happened every year that Phi Mu has more than five members who are candidates for the court.
“(We) are told not to vote for other sorority candidates either,” Lewis said. “I think that people should campaign and get votes the right way. By doing this, it’s not fair for other candidates.”

Mandy McQueen, another Troy and Phi Mu alumna, who ran for homecoming court in 2013, confirmed Lewis’ claim.

A Phi Mu homecoming candidate for this year, who wished not to be named, confirmed the claims that the bloc vote happened both this year and in years past. She said it was a political process.

The candidate said that during a Phi Mu meeting, which required all members’ attendance, the candidates were asked to leave the room. Then, the sorority discussed their candidacies and voted for the five to bloc vote.

According to Slayton Scott, Phi Mu president and a senior business major from Panama City Beach, Florida, during a meeting prior to election day, her chapter discussed this year’s six homecoming court candidates from Phi Mu. The chapter then made candidate choice suggestions based on input from every member.

Lauren Wiggins, a senior English major from Troy and Phi Mu reference chair, said that after the discussion of each candidate’s strengths and qualifications, each chapter member expressed whom they would vote for. When asked if the sorority had decided who it thought were the strongest five homecoming court candidates after the discussion, Wiggins said they “reported (their) findings and shared it” at the meeting.

Wiggins said similar processes have happened within her chapter regarding elections, not just the ones on homecoming court.

Slayton Scott said the chapter made a suggestion about which five of the six Phi Mu candidates would be most qualified for the court. However, she said that Phi Mu never discourages anyone from running.

“We can say, based on (the candidates’) strengths and how they’re represented on Troy campus, who we think will have a great possibility of making it to the interview,” Scott said. “That’s what we suggest.”

Slayton acknowledged that despite the suggestion, people have the right to vote however they wish to vote, and that there is no way to enforce the suggestion.

“From a PanHellenic perspective, we do not encourage bloc vote, though it is not against any guidelines (to do so),” said Barbara Patterson, director of student involvement and leadership and Troy PanHellenic Council adviser.

Patterson said the SGA could not tell any organization not to bloc vote, and there is no meaningful way to enforce such a ban. She said that thanks to the secretive nature of the actual voting process, people can vote for whomever they want without anyone knowing.

Patterson said the question of whether there should be a guideline against bloc voting is an interesting and complicated one. She said that she did not have an answer to that question during the interview, though as a matter of enforcement, she said she did not think there is a way the SGA can control bloc voting if a group chooses to do so.

“From the SGA’s perspective, we make sure that one student gets one vote,” Patterson said. “That is how we maintained the integrity of our election, and (that is) our main responsibility.”

As for the stickers, Scott said Phi Mu did not collect any stickers, nor did it require each member to bring specifically two nonmembers. She said the sorority encouraged everyone to participate in the election.

“We can say go bring people to vote,” she said. “But we can’t tell (Phi Mu members to) make sure these people vote for these people.”

According to Olivia Melton, SGA director of representation, a concern was communicated to her about fines regarding homecoming court voting. She said she met with one organization, which she did not disclose, on homecoming court election day, to make sure no one was fined.

Scott said she met with Melton on election day and showed that her sorority had not done any fining regarding homecoming voting. She said homecoming voting is not under the categories finable in Phi Mu bylaws.

Shelby Scott, a junior psychology major from Tallahassee, Florida, a Phi Mu member and this year’s Troy homecoming queen, said she did not feel comfortable being questioned about her sorority.

Slayton Scott said Phi Mu is the only organization that has more than five candidates nominated for homecoming court this year.

“With that, what do you do if you want to see your girls to get on, if you want to see them succeed?” she said. “How do they succeed when you can’t get them on court?”

Slayton Scott said she did not think the process was political, and that her chapter did not do anything to rig the voting.

She also said similar processes occur at other sororities.

A Chi Omega student from the college of Health and Human Services said members in her chapter were told to vote only for candidates from her sorority. She said the members were on a points system, and that if they did not do what they were told, they get negative points. At the end of the academic year, members with low accumulated points face a variety level of consequences.

These tactics remind me of the issue regarding the state of Alabama’s ID requirements for voting. Such requirements, though not illegal, are an attempt to influence election results. By bloc voting, an organization can try to maximize the possible votes for the chosen candidates.

Although there are no rules against bloc voting or mandatory voting, my investigation seeks to provide some transparency to the process. By bringing a clearer understanding of the voting process, I hope students recognize that they are free to vote for whomever they find most qualified, and that everyone should exercise that freedom so that the effect of these tactics on election results is marginal.

That way, qualified potential candidates would not feel discouraged to run if they are not backed by big organizations.

Moreover, though there has not yet been an effective way to enforce a ban on bloc voting, the question of whether such a ban should be established still stands. Students should have the discussion on the free voting process, on how we, as a university, appreciate the principle of democracy, and on the influence of that appreciation on the voting guidelines.

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