Election board and chair drop the ball

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

Last week, as Carnegie Mellon students voted for next year?s Student Body President and Vice President, they may have run into some unexpected problems ? the online voting page crashing, for example. Or perhaps they discovered that they were unable to read the platforms for some of the main candidates, and were therefore completely unaware of the positions of these potential leaders. Maybe, when they were asked to vote on a referendum that could approve a $5 fee for a collegiate newspaper program, they noticed that the facts about the program were wrong, including the title. If they returned to the page later, they might have noticed the referendum?s description had changed completely, or even disappeared.
If they followed, they would have noticed a nasty e-mail disparaging one of the candidates on the grounds of racism. They might have received an e-mail through their academic departments telling them to vote for so-and-so ? a clear violation of Computing Services guidelines.
It?s possible that the average student wasn?t much aware of or upset by these discrepancies in the voting system. But for a school that prides itself on its good judgment and expertise, the fact that the Student Body Elections Board couldn?t get their facts straight or keep their candidates in line ? especially after weeks of preparation ? is embarrassing.
The student body elections process may not seem like a big deal to most students, but for those who are involved in it, it?s seen as an enormous undertaking ? perhaps a little too enormous. Chancing by the third floor of the University Center one late evening, you might run into 11 ? count them:
11 ? people from various student organizations putting together one ? count it: one ? poster to advertise the student body debates. Preparations go on for weeks, and in an effort to coordinate these preparations, Student Senate appoints an Elections Chair, who is designated to keep the elections fair and orderly.
Despite appearances, this task shouldn?t be all that hard. Why is it, then, that this year?s Election Chair not only failed to clearly outline ethical campaign practices for the candidates but also couldn?t ensure that the website was clear and factual?
During both the presidential and Senate candidates? campaigns, several unfair campaigning practices occurred that the Elections Chair could have dealt with in a more expedient and fair manner. A post on listed a link to a poem attributed to presidential candidate Rachel Gross, apparently designed to portray her as a racist. Immediately, other presidential candidates were assumed to be the culprits. Furthermore, Senators defied Computing Services policy by e-mailing their departments to promote themselves. The Elections Board and Elections Chair appear to have taken only a passive stance on this behavior, rather than actively dealing with it.
Come the actual time to vote, there were still mistakes to be found. Students who went to the voting site to cast their votes electronically found that candidate platforms could not be seen. The description of the newspaper referendum was not correct. The site later had to be changed.
As a member of a newspaper?s staff, I fully understand that mistakes can be made. I will also concede that compared to last year?s election, this one went off very smoothly. However, there is no reason to see mistakes or unethical behavior of any kind in a student election. They are relatively simple operations and making them more elaborate than they have to be only creates opportunities for mistakes. It speaks to the mentality of much of this school that even the easiest of operations must be operated at an overly draconian, professional caliber. The primary problem is that projects are not undertaken by professionals. They are undertaken by students who hold themselves to a much higher standard than they may be capable of achieving.
The Elections Chair and Board should be concerned with simplicity and good practice above all else. These are not hard-hitting campaigners with whom they are dealing; they are students, students who genuinely have an interest in improving their school and making it a better place. The Chair could set an example for many student projects if they sacrificed formality for fairness, and if he closely moderated candidates? operations to promote as much good sportsmanship as possible.
Responsibility is not a bad thing. Rather than just ensuring the technicalities are in place, the Elections Chair could take a stance on candidate ethics. Such a role would make the election more enjoyable for everyone in the student body. After all, if we cannot promote fairness and accessibility in an academic atmosphere, it reflects poorly on our attitude as a school.