EDITORIALS

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November 29, 2011

Electoral dysfunction

The current system for replacing College Council representatives should be reformed.

Show up at Stuart Hall tomorrow night, walk into the weekly College Council (CC) meeting, and make your case that you should fill one of the two vacant representative seats. Although representatives are usually elected by hundreds of students on campus, given the recent set of extraordinary circumstances, odds are you’ll probably get the spot.

This isn’t a hypothetical situation. Tomorrow, CC will attempt to fill the seats vacated by newly elected chair and third-year Travis Benaiges and vice-chair and fourth-year Glynis Fagan. Benaiges’ vacated seat would normally have been automatically filled by the fifth-place finisher of last year’s SG elections, but he and the three other representatives of his class ran unopposed in the race for their year’s four seats, leaving no runner-up.

There are many problems with this situation. One is that, even though Benaiges was elected as chair during the third-week meeting, his replacement is being chosen now, during the last week of the quarter. This is in spite of CC by-laws that require replacements to be confirmed within a week. The bigger problem, however, is more familiar: CC’s official policy is to fill vacancies through internal elections.

This isn’t ideal for a multitude of reasons. First, internal elections are privy to significant bias; if a candidate is acquainted with even two or three current representatives, that person has already gone a long way toward convincing the council she belongs in a position of power. Second, with an established polling system already in place, it would be simple to open up the process to a quick campus vote. This also ensures that the people who will ultimately be represented have a say in filling the positions.

Admittedly, these votes will not attract a large percentage of the student body. That’s to be expected during tenth week, a time when finals are looming and Student Government is the last thing on anyone’s mind. But it’s likely that more than 16 students would vote, which is the number of people on College Council. We don’t have to be the most electorally engaged student body to present a better option than a compromised selection by CC members.

There is an obvious way this situation could be prevented in the future. Students who know they will be studying abroad during their term should not be eligible for elected positions. Promises made in the past that involved video-chatting into CC meetings are simply laughable. It is even more absurd that CC would choose to go further and name Benaiges chair of CC, knowing full well that he would have to abandon his post. But not all of this is SG’s fault; until more students run for CC positions in the first place, it seems difficult to imagine placing further restrictions on eligibility.

There is no perfect solution to these problems. SG has done much to engage the student body in the past year—specifically with the advent of SG committees, which directly involve students in forums of administrative action and undergraduate feedback. Nevertheless, let’s attempt some semblance of democracy and transparency when replacing our elected representatives. To simply allow any third- or fourth-year to saunter into the CC meeting and claim to be qualified is insulting. If such practices are continued, it might be time for the council to get some counsel.

The Editorial Board consists of the Editor-in-Chief, Viewpoints Editors, and an additional Editorial Board member.

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