In Feburary of 2002, an University of Illinois student named Shachar Meron decided to run for Illinois Student Government President.  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 Snail."

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 a landslide.

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 be combined.

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 were announced.

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
142--Charles Clark
461--Write-in votes
= 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."
--Shachar Meron

"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 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."
--Shachar Meron

"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."
--Sachar Meron

"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."
--Shachar Meron