During the fall semester of my 1L year I saw a posting in one of the bi-weekly Florida State Law Student Announcements requesting applications from College of Law students interested in serving on the Florida State University Student Government Association (SGA) Elections Commission. After serving as a member of the Florida State University Residence Life Conduct Board as an undergraduate, this type of activity appealed to me. After sending in my resume, taking a test on the SGA Election Code and Bylaws, and being briefed on the process, I was ready to go.
The Elections Commission is composed of a Florida State University student serving as the Supervisor of Elections and six College of Law Students who serve as the Elections Commission panel. The responsibility of the Commission panel is to meet weekly for 1 to 2 hours to hear complaints brought by the Supervisor of Elections against specific student political parties, individual party members, or independent candidates. After hearing arguments from each side, the Elections Commission publicly deliberates and makes a ruling in each case. After a ruling is handed down, the Commission then proceeds to the sentencing phase which consists of tabulating the consequences of the violation(s) and determining if an action is warranted. Typically, there is a fine, but some cases can result in candidate disqualification. The Elections Commission is then required to file their opinion within 24 hours of the decision. If the party involved is dissatisfied with the outcome, they may appeal the decision to the Student Supreme Court (also composed of College of Law students).
When I arrived at my first hearing, I did not know what to expect. Complaints are e-mailed to Commissions panel members prior to a hearing, and I had so many questions even before the hearing started. Both parties stated their case and then Commission deliberations began. It was intriguing to hear all of the different opinions of the Commission members and to share mine as well. While it appeared to be an open and shut case, each member still wanted to make sure we were making the right decision and that the decision was supported by the facts. After coming to a decision, tabulating the sanctions for the violation, and handing down our decision, the losing party informed us that they would be appealing the decision. After the hearing was over I knew that I found an activity that was right for me.
Serving on the Elections Commission seems very much like serving as a judge in a court and much of our work involves the same type of experiences we are having as law students—reading opinions, analyzing and dissecting them, and making a ruling. We also have the responsibility to help guide the Student Senate and Supreme Court in amending SGA laws to clarify the law and close apparent loopholes. Our decisions are unbiased and thoughtful and we are well aware of the underlying reality that they have consequences. If Commission actions are incorrect or if we fail in some way to articulate the reasons for our decisions fully, they can be overturned by the Student Supreme Court.
I feel that the Commission’s decisions help ensure the neutrality and fairness in student government elections for all students. Participating will hone critical thinking, analysis, and legal writing skills. It provides an opportunity to be a part of the judicial branch of the Florida State University Student Government Association and is a unique opportunity only afforded to College of Law students. It is also one of the only activities of its type that law students can participate in during the fall semester of their 1L year. I am now in my second year on the Commission and encourage any College of Law student interested in serving to give it a try.