Photo: Taylor Soule
On Monday morning, students at Drake University noticed more than just the regular Student Senate posters plastered across campus.
One faux-candidate, Chad Stephens, announced that he was going to be running as a write-in candidate. The only problem for Stephens is that he’s not an actual Drake student. He has no student identification number and no Drake email. Therefore, according to Election Commission rules, he cannot run for Senate.
The first mentions of Stephens came through social media outlets, as accounts with his name began adding Drake students. Since then, he has been checking into buildings on campus, tweeting about the issues on campus and hosting Facebook events.
Conversations around campus have centered around this phantom student for a few days now. Few people know how this person came to be, but the consensus is this — Chad Stephens is not a student at Drake.
The Election Commission Chair, senior Jessie Hill, sent out a statement concerning the write-in campaign.
“’Chad Stephens is not an official candidate. He is clearly a hoax campaign. His campaign material has been removed from campus,” Hill wrote in an email.
She informed the candidates that in order to participate in the general election, students must follow the guidelines set forth by the Commission, including providing “accurate information about themselves.”
Per Election Commission guidelines, candidates — write-in or not — must complete a petition with 50 student signatures, a declaration of candidacy, a signed code of ethics, a $20 deposit and a statement of expenses. Stephens has yet to complete those things.
Since her email, Stephens has been vocal on Twitter about his rights of free speech.
One tweet reads: “I think that the restrictions on free speech at @DrakeUniversity is [sic] a #DrakeProblems. #VoteChad next week so I can be a #DrakeProblemSolver.”
Another says: “It is a shame that @DrakeUniversity has tried to shut down my campaign because I tried to talk about diversity. #FreeSpeech #VoteChad.”
Kathleen Richardson, the director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication said in this instance, since Drake is a private institution it could regulate speech on campus, but historically it has not done so.
She points out that the first amendment is “not absolute” and that in certain circumstances like libel or obscenities, the first amendment can be regulated.
“Free speech not only embraces important speech, it also protects something like Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert,” Richardson said. “It doesn’t have to be ultra-serious speech to be protected.”
She added this is an interesting twist to the election process on campus.
“It would be one thing if it was just posters expressing this person’s views,” Richardson said, “but where it gets problematic is if it infringes on the election process.”
“The removal of Chad Stephens’ posters from campus is not an issue of free speech,” Hill said in an official comment to the TD. “Election Commission holds no personal vendettas towards Chad or his intended message.”
Hill said it is the job of the Election Commission to “Uphold the integrity of the election,” and that the posters were detracting from those candidates who had done their paper work or were in the process of filling out paperwork.
“We (the Election Commission) commend Chad’s political activism and his passion for his forthcoming message. We invite him/her/them to run under his/her/their own name(s) as write-in candidates,” the statement from Hill read.
It is still unclear as to who is behind the character of Stephens, but one thing is for sure, it’s creating quite a stir on campus.
Statement Concerning “Chad Stephens” from the Election Commission:
The Drake University Election Commission wanted to address the “Chad Stephens” write-in candidate issue. “Chad Stephens” is not an official candidate. He is clearly a hoax campaign. His campaign material has been removed from campus. The Election Commission is very disheartened by the hoax campaign, as we’re sure many students are as well. We have included Melissa Sturm-Smith in the matter, and she stated the following: “Drake students are welcome to post information about issues, as long as it falls within the guidelines of the University Posting policy. This policy would include providing accurate contact information.”
As I informed “Chad” via email: “There are many ways to become politically active on campus. These include joining student organizations, writing for student publications, attending speakers, holding rallies, etc. Running for Student Senate IS a way to be politically active. However, in order to participate in the election process, candidates must follow the Election Commission guidelines and by-laws. Those include requiring candidates to provide accurate information about themselves. Unless you are willing to provide accurate information about yourself, you will be unable to participate in the political process of the Drake University Student Senate elections.”
Also important to note: Votes cast toward “Chad Stephens” in the 2012 Student Senate General Election will be labeled as abstentions.