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Questions about the elections

| Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Turn off your TVs. Stop streaming The Bachelor. There’s no need for satellite reality programming: it’s campus election time.

No, I am not a poli-sci major, nor do I play one on TV, but I still have a vested interest in the way the affairs on campus are being run. And as a bystander, I can’t help but realize that the events of student elections are consistently, dare I say unnecessarily, complex.

This election, for instance, there were four separate sanctions, one appeal to the Election Committee, 26 votes invalidated, and an entire ticket removed from the ballot. What happened? Why all the red tape? Unfortunately, due to confidentiality clauses in the Student Constitution, any and all press releases read more like vague riddles advertising for a movie synopsis. Since, precedents would discourage the student body from expecting further information, little is left to do but wonder. And wonder I do.

1. Why must the candidates acquire 700 signatures before running?

More importantly, why are they forbidden from telling the signees about their platforms? I discovered the irrational rule when one of the candidates came petitioning through my dorm but was barred from answering any of my follow up questions. 

As someone whose mother warned her early on to never sign anything that she didn’t understand, I take issue with stamping my John Hancock on a cause I know nothing about. How can I endorse a candidate if I don’t know that their values align with mine?  How can I say, “Sure, take a gander at governing the student body,” without having the slightest notion of which issues matter to them? For all I know, these strangers roaming around my dorm could be racist heroin addicts. As a girl who had dozens of lined papers thrust under my nose in the last month, I’d appreciate the opportunity to ask some questions about the campaigns which I’m enabling.

2. What qualifies as “unethical behavior”?

The Student Union Constitution gives examples of unethical behavior ranging from “monopolization of limited board space” to harassment of election officials. That’s a rather broad definition, ranging from “aw, rats” territory to offenses worthy of police intervention. 

As a student voter, I believe we have a right to know the unethical behavior transgressed by candidates. Are we talking professors putting their own book on their required materials list, or more along the lines of an underground ring of assassins? I understand why the details of the alleged crime are kept under wraps, but as a voter, I’d like to know if a candidate has laundered money in an offshore account or if she simply added tomatoes to her sandwich in the grilled cheese maker in North Dining Hall. 

According to my Fundamentals of Journalism class, the wrongdoings of public figures are fair game. Once you’ve wandered campus hunting for signatures from unsuspecting students, like it or not, you’re a public figure. The public has a right to know what shady activity you’re up to, whether it’s drawing phalluses in the snow, or cheating on an economics exam.

And once some specification is offered regarding unethical behavior, I’d like to clarify the meaning of “highly” as well. For an arbitrary adverb, that word was the difference between one ticket being removed from the ballot this year and another simply facing sanctions. At what threshold are tickets completely obliterated? How unethical could college elections be? Why is everyone acting so blasé about the fact that not one, but two, campaigns were mixed up in nefarious business? That apparently Notre Dame students have educated their minds at the sake of their hearts, and morals have been lobbed out the window in a quest for an office on the second floor of LaFun?! I, for one, am quite concerned.

3. Does the Election Committee strategically enact policies that create the most drama?

As the Student Union Constitution Article XVII.5.a.3 and the email that class council sent to the class of 2022 last year states, “in the event that neither ticket receives a majority of the valid votes in the run-off election, the ticket/candidate which wins the most amount of Senate constituencies shall win the election… (B) The Student Senate shall convene a special meeting for the purpose of observing the Judicial Council President announce the run-off election results from the individual Senate constituencies.” In other words, the electoral college comes into play, but without population adjustment: each hall gets one vote.

Ignoring the fact that instituting the electoral college for halls is wildly unrepresentative why should a Badin resident’s vote count be worth twice as much as a Lewis resident’s I’m more confused by the line of reasoning that necessitates a public vote unveiling: “The Student Senate shall convene a special meeting for the purpose of observing the… [announcement of] the run-off election results.” This is essentially a glorified live viewing party for student senators! Why must each dorm announce their results live, in an America’s Got Talent-esque fashion? Why can’t we simply look at the Google form results and send out an email, as is done in all other situations?

I realize these practices are likely rooted in reason, but I also realize that over the last four years, every election has resulted in sanctions and delayed results. In the 2017 election for student body president, the Election Committee delayed release of the results due to misconduct allegations. In the 2018 election, five rounds of sanctions and four requested appeals slowed that announcement. Last year, the student body presidential election was blissfully drama free, but sophomore class council faced sanctions, runoffs and special Senate meetings, and this year’s election results were suspended by election appeals as well. I understand the delays occur in order to minimize hasty and erroneous results, but it often feels as if the Judicial Council simply relishes their 15 minutes of fame the election offers every year, dragging out the few weeks the student body remembers they have power. 

Yes, many of these questions could be answered by talking to my hall senator or doing a thorough read of the Student Union Constitution, but the average Notre Dame student is not conducting thorough examinations of the precise details of the constitution. The average student is speculating with her roommate and jumping to conclusions as exaggerated rumors reach her through the grapevine. By limiting students’ access to information, the Judicial Council creates an open niche for students’ wildest imaginations.

Julianna Conley loves cereal, her home state of California and the em dash. A sophomore in Pasquerilla East, if Julianna can’t be found picnicking on North Quad, she can be reached for comment at [email protected].

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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