Let us start off by saying this: we know student elections will never be perfect.
There are clear limitations of personnel, finances and simply real world experience. When you have one individual student essentially put in control of organizing, monitoring and, as we’ve seen this year, altering elections processes, you can’t expect things to run perfectly.
That being said, the upcoming ASFA elections have presented a number of reasons to question how this electoral process came to be and whether the recent changes to the electoral system have actually hurt the association.
Since this fiscal year began, ASFA has been touting its own decision to remove slates in order to eradicate piggybacking and clean up the elections, which in the recent past have tumbled into petty cat fights and illegal tactics. While we won’t know whether those goals have been achieved until after the elections, the end of the nomination period has presented another clear negative consequence of the electoral change: even lower participation.
Only 12 candidates will be participating in ASFA’s 2011 election campaign, down from 28 the year before. Three of seven executive positions are going uncontested. This includes the position of president which will go to current councillor Alex Gordon lest he be beaten by “abstain.’ A fourth position, that of VP communications, received no applications at all and will require a byelection next fall.
The organization’s efforts to clean up elections are commendable, but those in charge did not take into account how removing slates would affect the interest of potential candidates. Slates provide a solid base for candidate recruitment. Interested individuals will search for similarly interested friends and peers to join their slates and run. While this isn’t always a positive, an executive built of friends can present clear problems of checks on authority, the decision to elect the executives used to fall on the students. This year, students will ultimately have no choice about three of their executives, a reality which may raise questions about the executive’s legitimacy next year. Technically, students could vote to abstain, but a victory in that regard is likely to only hurt an organization already handicapped by the lack of a communications officer.
The decision to remove slates is only one questionable aspect in a largely disorganized and flawed electoral system. Questions posed at the all-candidates meeting last week made it clear how illogical some of the rules are, no matter why they were put in place.
For one, electoral rules state that candidates can’t be within a certain distance of polls on election day, but candidates can go elsewhere on campus encouraging people to vote. The problem lies in the fact that candidates can introduce themselves, but are not allowed to say that they are running, even if they are asked. Even more confusing, candidates are not allowed to wear nametags despite the fact that they can introduce themselves. They also cannot say they are running though hypothetically they could speak to people standing in front of their own campaign posters.
Also problematic for an organization plagued by low voter turnout, candidates are not allowed to tell students where the polling tables are, even if asked. ASFA struggles to make electoral quorum and yet this rule is strictly enforced?
To be fair there have been a few positive changes made to the electoral process this year. For one, executive summaries and a blurb for each candidate will be available at each election table so voters who would like to be informed can do so on short notice at the voting station itself. While we doubt the uninterested majority who don’t vote do so because they don’t know the candidates, this is still a move in the right direction: information as incentive. Adding these summaries to the ASFA website is another change that could potentially help inform voters by making information easily accessible.
But ultimately, it’s as if ASFA was trying too hard to make the system better, while ignoring the practicalities of student elections. The organization would have done a lot better by keeping things simple and focusing on keeping elections fair for all candidates, regardless of the system in place.
Instead of preventing candidates from telling people they are running, why not give all candidates the opportunity to do so and reward the dedicated ones who spend their days working for votes? This would not be unfair, because all candidates would be on equal ground.
Trying to run a fair election is one thing; trying to run a pretty election is an entirely different thing, one that doesn’t seem to have paid off in ASFA’s case this year.