A week ago, ASUW President Evan Smith sent a survey to the campus to get more information about voting trends in the spring’s annual student government elections. It may seem early, but credit student leadership for taking a crack at elections reform.
Now, let’s see if the student leaders are actually serious.
ASUW elections are flawed. Not to sound like a sore loser — as I most recently lost a bid to be vice president this past year — but elections have become based on who creates the best formula of candidates and who can coerce the highest number of unknowing students to their table on voting days. It’s not about endorsements, intellect, or broad-based campus support, as some argue it should be.
The Board of Directors (BOD) can make some serious steps toward making elections more merit-based, but they’ll have to take some chances. In the past, many have been worried about a lowered turnout and smaller elections presence due to reforms. It was part of the reason the board chose not to take action last year, when I headed campaign reforms as the ASUW director of policy and procedures. But, if student leaders want to get serious about actually improving the system for the long run and putting the best people in office, they’ll have to take some risks.
The best way for the board to reestablish legitimacy in ASUW elections is to take balloting offline altogether. Currently, any UW student can log in from anywhere and vote in elections.
Online voting may sound like a good thing — who is against voter access? But what it ultimately leads to is candidates schlepping tables and computers and setting up voting booths to strong-arm unknowing students into voting for them.
Instead of voting online, students would be able to vote at neutral ASUW voting booths around campus — which already exist in addition to candidate stations — and would be able to vote in an unbiased and uninfluenced way. This isn’t a new idea — the association is a century old and, for a long time, was operated under the norm of paper ballots, presumably with identity verification corroborated by Husky Card. On a similar note, the ballots don’t necessarily have to be paper — while certainly a technological undertaking, it could be feasible for people to log in with their UW Net ID and vote in an offline but digital poll at ASUW-provided computers.
Eliminating online voting would eliminate the dirty part of elections. There wouldn’t be any more cotton candy for votes or login trickery by candidates, nor would you see candidates taking advantage of drunken students on Greek Week for the sheer purpose of adding one more vote to their total. Just as importantly, it would stop candidates from going door-to-door with laptops in the residence halls or from having tables set up outside fraternities as they host Greek Week festivities, as both practices tend to favor certain tickets. In fact, I’m one to talk — I still credit my 2011 election, in part, to camping outside several fraternities stalking potential drunken voters with my laptop and cell phone.
Similarly, it would also eliminate problems with instant runoff voting, which dictates that if there are three or more tickets, opposing candidates can secretly wheel-and-deal with others to essentially eliminate a candidate (or party) from contention. Happy with the results or not, a one-ticket sweep in this past year’s election, in addition to an almost-sweep the year before, showed that elections aren’t entirely based on merit or skill. Better candidates lose because they don’t have the right formula of candidates to win or they can’t take advantage of the most students at their booths, and it’s time that the ASUW board not be afraid to take a few risks to improve the system for the long haul.
Reach opinion columnist Bill Dow at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @dowbill
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