In Feburary of 2002, an University of Illinois
student named Shachar
decided to run for Illinois Student Government
Then all hell broke loose
Meron is a cartoonist for the Daily Illini, the school newspaper,
wherein he writes a cartoon entitled Blue Rice. For the past
few years, leading up to student elections, he has regularly poked fun
at the Illinois Student Government for being generally useless--a sentiment
agreed with by a sizable portion of the student body, if not an outright majority. He has gone so far to have some of his cartoon characters
satiracally announce their candidacy for ISG office within his column.
This year, one of Meron's friends suggested that he have one of them
run for real. Shachar looked into it and was surprised to find that
the only requirement to appear on the ballot is to collect 40 signatures
on a petition and turn it in before a designated date. Furthermore,
candidates are permitted to have the name appearing on the ballot differ
from their legal name. Meron dutifully collected the signatures and
submitted his petition for presidency to the election committee--with the
name of "Gordon the Gnome," one of the Blue Rice characters, as the
name to appear on the ballot. One of Meron's friends, Brian DePriest,
likewise submitted a petition for vice presidency under the name of "Hale
The "real" candidates were livid. The Progress slate, one of the
two big parties running in the election, protested immediately and filed
just about every complaint known to man to try to get Meron and DePriest
removed from the ballot. The Genesis slate, to their credit, did
not protest publicly. The Student Election Committee denied all
of Progress' motions. The next day, Shachar wrote a column in the
Daily Illini detailing his struggles to get on the ballot. He also
continuously had the two characters, Gordon and Hale, "campaign" in Blue
Rice. Their main slogan was, simply, "C'mon. How much would
it rule if we actually won?"
The election occurred on March 5th and March 6th through an online ballot.
Meron and DePriest did indeed appear on the form. The names listed
were "Gordon the Gnome Meron" and "Hale the Snail DePriest," ostensibly
to provide some link to their real names.
Every single person I know who was not directly connected to either
of the two big slates voted for them. Student participation in
these elections, normally anemic, was way over norm with people coming
out of the woodwork to voice their displeasure over the past powerlessness
of ISG by voting for a gnome and a snail. Elections ended without
fanfare at the end of the day on March 6th, and the general feeling throughout
campus is that Meron had just about done the impossible--and done it in
At 7 PM on March 7th, the Student Election Commission met to discuss
the notion that Meron and DePriest broke at least two election guidelines.
They charged that Meron spent more money campaigning than the guidelines
allowed for an independent candidate ($300). The item of contention
was the Blue Rice column, which Meron had assessed at $7.05 a column
inch (the value his competitors paid for similar space) while the SEC instead
put the fair market value at $10.80 an inch--putting Meron over the limit
after the fact. Shachar tried to argue that he and DePriest had
shared the space and so shared funds, but the panel ruled that because
Meron and DePriest did not form an official slate, their funds could not
The SEC then disqualified both Meron and DePriest from the election
after the fact, despite the fact that this grievance could have easily
been addressed before the election and was not.
After the panel recessed, Genesis' Sara Bokhari was announced as the
winner for ISG president with Progress' Chris Dillion winning the position
of vice president. Meron announced that he would not file a complaint,
even though he had to right to do so until noon of the day after the results
On March 8th, the actual election tallies were revealed. These were
the "official" tallies for the presidential election:
2,032--Sara Bokhari, Genesis
1,994--Stephanie Halvorson, Progress
= 4,629 votes cast for ISG president.
Meron's actual votes are not shown--because the SEC refused to release them--but a telling picture can be drawn
regardless: 7,705 students voted in the ISG elections, but only 4,629 undisqualified
votes for president were cast. That leaves 3,706 students who
did one of two things:
A) Took the time to vote in the election but failed to vote for the
highest position on the ballot.
B) Voted for Gordon the Gnome.
Even if only two-thirds of the "unaccounted for" students voted for
Meron (a VERY conservative estimate, considering in the previous year 88% of those who voted in the election did so in the presidential race), it still would've been enough for him to win the election--and then
some. A similar picture is painted by the vice presidential results.
"I'm guessing Gordon the Gnome and Hale the Snail received a plurality
of the vote otherwise this wouldn't be happening."
"Honestly, they should have kept (Meron's) ballots, they should have
made the rules clearer."
--Marcia Fuentes, Genesis' candidate for ISG treasurer
"It's not fair...it pretty much discourages independents from running."
--Matt Dalsanto, independent candidate for student trustee
"This is geared towards slates."
--Joel Baise, SEC chairman
"Roughly about one out of five students voted. About 85 percent of
students didn't even care about voting. And then, out of those who
did vote, a plurality voted for the cartoon characters who were mocking
the system. Out of what was left, the majority voted for the president
who said she would make big changes in ISG."
"Some (votes) were probably for Shachar."
--Joel Baise, SEC chairman
"At this point, I know it is impossible for an independent candidate
to win. I won by votes, but I got kicked out. (The SEC) can
interpret it any way they want, and they can still kick me out."
"Talk about a disgrace. The SEC shouldn't even be mentioned in the same sentence as democracy. We shudder to think these students are our future politicians."
--Daily Illini editorial column, Friday, March 8th, 2002
"You see, my column and comic strips are considered advertising space for the purpose of this election, so even though I paid nothing for them (and actually got paid for presenting them, as I am an employed cartoonist and columnist), the pretend amount of money that I spent on a non-existent advertisement exceeded my budget limitations, as determined by the subjective interpretation of a vague law."