Lesson Learned

At Akron U, student elections painstakingly imitate ugly life.

Dan Langshaw learned politics the hard way when he - lost the election to the commissioner's girlfriend and - fratmate. - Walter  Novak
Dan Langshaw learned politics the hard way when he lost the election to the commissioner's girlfriend and fratmate.
It was an election plagued by allegations of voter disenfranchisement, illegal campaigning, and polarization. There were even claims that an election commissioner was in bed with certain candidates -- literally.

Just months after the 2004 presidential election and five years after Florida's hanging chads, the University of Akron's student government has finally caught on. If college is where a burgeoning politician is supposed to learn the ropes of politics, Akron U's student government is the perfect incubator.

The task of a student senator isn't particularly cumbersome. It's about deciding whether the chess club has enough in the kitty to cover tournament fees and which hippie jam band will play the year-end concert.

Out of Akron U's 24,000 students, few care who's in their representative body or what it does. Less than 3 percent actually vote. "It doesn't affect us," says student Holly Spears. "Do I get money? Do they pay for my school? I know it sounds bad, but it's just some frat-sorority thing, and I can't get my head that far up my ass."

Nevertheless, the often-ignored workings of student government recently turned into a whirlwind of controversy -- at least for sophomore senator Dan Langshaw.

The rumpus revolved around a three-way Senate race, pitting Langshaw against none other than the election commissioner's girlfriend, Leah Singleton, and his Phi Gamma Delta frat brother, John Calabrese. Serenity is not among Langshaw's gifts. He is -- to put it charitably -- wound as tight as a nun in a titty bar, with a voice that peaks at a high screech whenever he gets excited.

"I take this job very seriously," Langshaw says. "I live and breathe politics."

But like many a real-life politician, his ambition doesn't always supersede his lack of charisma, says Singleton. "Sometimes he deals with people in a rude manner."

Singleton, by contrast, belongs to Alpha Delta Pi, the nation's oldest sorority. A laid-back, nicely tanned brunette, she bobs her head dramatically when she means "yes" and rolls her eyes affectedly for "no." She is often found sporting Alpha Delta's signature light blue, from her T-shirts down to her buffed nails.

The fact that her boyfriend, Al DiVencenzo, was an election commissioner, she says, had nothing to do with it. "This wasn't a hookup so I could win. Al and I have been together for three years, since high school." (DiVencenzo declined comment.)

Calabrese also knew DiVencenzo. Both are members of Phi Gamma Delta. "Please don't use the word 'frat,'" Singleton asks Scene. "It's, like, offensive. Al and John hate it."

Hence, the race pitted the hard-charging political rat in Langshaw, who lives in the dorms, against those who travel in a much higher social orbit.

The campaign was aggressive, with both sides filing grievances. Singleton and Calabrese separately attacked Langshaw for campaigning on a student networking website called facebook.com without seeking approval from the student government, which regulates campaign materials -- a concept apparently borrowed from the Chinese government.

In turn, Langshaw attacked Calabrese and Singleton for co-campaigning without permission to endorse each other.

In the world of student politics, these were apparently serious allegations. And just as in real politics, voters yawned.

Langshaw had deeper concerns. He feared that his opponents' intimacy with Commissioner DiVencenzo would result in tallies being miscounted or misplaced at his expense.

Singleton categorically denies any foul play. "Al never talked to us about the election," she says. "And it wasn't like he could have done anything to mess with the votes. His work was all done before the election. He didn't even have a password to the results site."

But Langshaw's suspicions were only made worse when the polls finally opened on March 21.

This was the first election to employ PeopleSoft software. Due to a glitch on the website, students were able to cast their votes only if they'd already settled on a major. Most underclassmen, who probably couldn't have cared less anyway, were locked out.

Langshaw claims that he had trouble voting. "It took me at least four tries to vote," he said. "Does that mean that other students just gave up and didn't vote?"

Singleton heard of similar troubles, but they didn't affect the race, she says. "It wasn't like it was biased toward me and John. The problems affected all of us."

For most of voting day, early tallies had Langshaw in the lead. But back at the student union, his heart sank as the final results were announced. He'd lost by 60 votes to Calabrese and 130 votes to Singleton. "I wouldn't say he stormed out, but he was upset," Singleton says.

Langshaw immediately composed 10 grievances against his opponents. Among his complaints were the commissioner's personal relationship with Singleton and his friendship with frat brother Calabrese.

The election would be left up to the student judiciary.

Had Langshaw done his homework, however, he would have known that incest is central to politics. The 2000 presidential election, after all, was decided by Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who also happened to be George W. Bush's state campaign chief. In the world of politics, "conflict of interest" carries a very loose definition.

After two days of hearings, most of Langshaw's grievances were thrown out. "I didn't have any hard evidence about any conflicts of interest," he says.

Calabrese and Singleton were guilty of co-campaigning without permission and required to write the obligatory letter of apology.

But Langshaw got slapped as well. He was found guilty of campaigning on the student website without permission.

As he approaches the end of his term, one of his greatest concerns is voter apathy. "The biggest problem is that there were only 606 votes cast out of 24,000 students."

That apathy is perhaps best expressed by student Jessica McKenna. "What? We have a student government? Oh. Hey, I got to cut this short, I'm on my way to work."

It appears that Ms. McKenna is ready to graduate to adult politics.