Last substantial update on 3 May 2002.
1 Feb 2003 -- The link to text of the FOIA law broke, so I fixed it.
If you're a student at UIUC, and you haven't been living in a cave, you know that Gordon the Gnome and Hale the Snail, characters from the comic strip Blue Rice (published in the Daily Illini) ran for positions in the Illinois Student Government in the election held on 4-5 March 2002.
After the election, Gordon and Hale were disqualified for exceeding campaign spending limits, and the comic strip's author (accompanied by the rest of the student body) posited that the decision came as a result of Gordon and Hale receiving a plurality of the votes cast. It was later revealed that a large number of votes for the offices of President and Vice President (those for which Gordon and Hale were running) were disqualified. Additionally, Mr Joel Baise of the Student Election Commission told the DI that results computed before disqualifying Gordon and Hale would not be released.
While it appeared probable that Gordon and Hale won (7705 students voted, but only 4629 votes were counted for the office of President, a difference of 3076 votes, with the winner receiving 2032 votes), I wanted to be certain. A mere probability of knowing the true result was not satisfactory.
On 8 March, I sent two letters [ps pdf text] via certified mail to Mr Baise and the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs demanding the release of the raw election results to me, pursuant to Illinois's Freedom of Information Act.
Mr Baise received my letter on 9 March by way of his roommate, who signed for its receipt.
During the early morning hours of 10 March, I received two threatening telephone calls from the residence of Mr Baise by way of a telephone line in the name of his roommate. I reported these calls to the police, who went to speak with him as well as his roommate. Mr Baise apparently wasn't fully understanding the gravity of the situation, as he had been drinking and was heavily intoxicated. In spite of his lubricated state, he proceeded to describe to the police the series of death threats and threats of other violence which he alleged I had been making to him. Later that day, I sent another letter [ps pdf text] to the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs in which I explained my assumption that the telephone calls I received were not part of their official response to my enquiry.
The next day, in the DI's 11 March issue, an editorial revealed an apparent double standard [see the third from last paragraph] in SEC decisions. The editorial remembered that last year, a slate that overspent was merely fined, whereas this year, the overspenders were disqualified from the election. Also, on the same day, the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs received my original request letter.
On 12 March, I received an e-mail from Ms Askew, the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs. Ms Askew indicated her receipt of my request. She implied that it was the Student Election Committee's responsibility to respond to my request and said that she had informed them that all responses to Freedom of Information Act requests must be reviewed by the Office of Public Affairs before release. She also stated that she had forwarded my letter regarding the threatening telephone calls I received on 10 March to Mr William Riley, Dean of Students, so that he could review it and determine if there had been any violation of the Code of Policies and Regulations Applying to All Students.
Later that same day, I received an e-mail from Mr Baise. He advised that the results would be available for interested parties to review and temporarily remove for copying from the ISG office on 14 March. In his e-mail, he made no plea for his life to the man who he claimed has threatened it repeatedly.
Also on 12 March, I received an e-mail thread forwarded to me by Mr Philip Lowman between himself and Mr Baise. Mr Lowman telephoned Mr Baise at home on the night of 8 March to enquire as to when the results would be released, but Mr Baise declined to tell him when they would be released and was in general very short with him. The next day, Mr Lowman sent an e-mail to Mr Baise in which he apologised for telephoning him at home and asked again for the information to be released on Monday, 11 March lest he seek to obtain this information by way of the Freedom of Information Act. Mr Baise's response was `File away.'
On the afternoon of 14 March, I went with my associates, Mr Jesse Olsen and Mr Dan Sachs, to the ISG office. I picked up a rather thick book containing a copy of the vote recording Perl script, raw results from ballots, and best of all, tabulated results by candidate. (Unfortunately, I didn't find this last section until I had already copied the 217 pages containing individual votes for President and Vice President, thinking that a count either manually or by way of OCR would be required.) The following results are counts of first choices:
So they won, as we all expected.
ISG Student Body President
2,685 Gordon T. Gnome Meron 2,032 Sara Z. Bokhari, Genesis 1,994 Stephanie Halvorson, Progress 142 Charles Clark
ISG Student Body Vice President
2,697 Hale T. Snail DePriest 2,059 Chris Dillion, Progress 1,953 Ben G. Jones, Genesis
Later that day (shortly before 5pm, i.e. when campus offices would close), a DI reporter contacted me regarding a letter about the GEO, which was printed that day with my name. We spoke about the GEO for a few minutes, but before we ended the telephone call, I asked the reporter matter-of-factly if the DI had obtained the results yet. We had the following conversation (paraphrased, not exact quotes):
`So do you have the ISG election results yet?'On 15 March, the DI ran a story containing the election results, which it said were `requested by two students under the Freedom of Information Act.' The story made no mention of the DI's own FOIA request, but it is unclear whether the results were obtained from me. The DI says that it conducted its own hand count, but also, its numbers (2,632 and 2,032) look like they may be the result of a typographical error. I hope it did not fail to give credit where credit is due. (Also, on the same day, they misquoted me in a story on the GEO.)
`You mean including Gordon and Hale? No, but we FOIA'ed it.'
`Oh, well I did, too, and I already have the results.'
`Yeah, I'm holding the results in my hand right now, and I'm about to put them on the web.'
`Can you e-mail me that?'
Thinking everything was over and done with, on 25 March, I received a letter by post from the Office of Public Affairs. In a thoroughly stunning demonstration of not knowing whether it was coming or going, it advised that it would extend the deadline for replying to my request by not more than seven additional working days because `the requested records are stored in whole or in part at other locations than the office having charge of the requested records' (5 ILCS 140/3(d)(i)). The Office intends to respond to my request by 1 April.
On 3 April, I received by post a belated reply from Mr William Murphy on behalf of the Office of Public Affairs. In his letter, he advised that `[My] request hereby denied[sic] in as much as the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign does not have access to such documentation' (in spite of my knowing in fact that it has such information because I have already obtained it).
Due to laziness, I didn't get around to responding to Mr Murphy's mind-blowing letter until 15 April. On that day, I sent him a final letter [ps pdf txt] in which I informed him that the University did, in fact, have the information and that I had already received it. I further reminded him that unlawful denials of FOIA requests such as that which nearly happened to me would grant those subjected to unlawful denials rights of action against the University.
On 3 May, just two months on from the ISG election, the BBC reported that H'Angus the Monkey had been elected mayor of Hartlepool in the UK. H'Angus is the mascot of the Hartlepool United Football Club.
The mascot's vote-winning slogan was "free bananas for schoolchildren." Despite the embarrassment, Downing Street insisted that elected mayors were "the way forward."On the heels of simulated sex with a woman and `antics' involving an inflatable doll, some remain uncertain as to how the mascot will take his new responsibilities in the local council.
|4-5 March||ISG election held|
|7 March||Gordon and Hale disqualified, winners declared|
|8 March||Election results published
FOIA letters sent
|9 March||Mr Baise tells Mr Lowman to `File away.'
Mr Baise receives FOIA letter
|10 March||Threatening telephone calls received in early morning
Another letter sent to VCSA
|11 March||DI editorial points out SEC double standard
VCSA receives FOIA letter
|12 March||VCSA responds to both letters, forwards 10 March letter
to Dean of Students
Mr Baise advises that results will be available in two days' time
|14 March||Election results obtained|
|15 March||DI prints full results, source of results unclear|
|25 March||Office of Public Affairs advises it will respond by 1 April|
|2 April||OPA denies my request|
|15 April||OPA informed by mail that UIUC has the information and thanks anyway|
|3 May||H'Angus the Monkey elected mayor of Hartlepool, UK|