In light of the controversies that swept UCR during elections last year, ASUCR has made significant changes to the set of bylaws that will apply in this year’s upcoming elections. The major changes include the removal of the ban on laptopping, the shortening of the campaign season, the expansion of the powers of the elections committee and the alteration of limits on campaign expenditures.
Perhaps the most relevant change in response to the controversies last year is the unbanning of laptopping. Candidates will now be able to utilize this strategy to influence students into voting along their party’s line. This change is only partially mitigated by the fact that this year’s voting will also take place at physical polling sites, where laptopping will not be a viable tactic.
It is shocking that ASUCR decided to address this problem by legitimizing it. This action demonstrates that their interests lie not with the needs of the student body, but with their own well-being. In essence, it rewrites history to say that the current members of ASUCR did not gain their positions by any alleged improper means.
Furthermore, the termination of the laptopping ban ignores the fact that it is unfair and exploitative toward the student body. Laptopping ultimately is used to take advantage of uninformed students who feel pressured to make a decision on which candidates to elect. Rather than attempt to inform the voters they talk to in order to earn votes, laptopping candidates essentially bully a student into giving their vote. Therefore, for the sake of making elections fair and ethical, ASUCR should have made the opposite decision regarding laptopping
The second major change made to ASUCR’s bylaws about elections involves a reduction in the length of the campaign season. While in previous years the campaigns lasted for five weeks, they have now been cut down to just three weeks. The cited reason was easing the burden of campaigning for the candidates. Indeed, this change will reduce the amount of work the candidates — who have to balance schoolwork during the entire campaign season — have to deal with.
One significant concern is raised in this change: the effectiveness of campaigns may be reduced at the same time. Three weeks is a relatively short amount of time, and it may be the case that it is not enough time for the candidates to make their positions known to the entire campus. Then again, it could be argued that there is not much of real significance in what candidates have to say, and that there is no need for the extra two weeks of campaigning.
The third major change is the shift in many of the responsibilities of the elections director to the elections committee. Last year, the elections director was left the task of cleaning up after the various controversies stemming from the elections. Now, the responsibilities — and accompanying hazards — of running the ASUCR elections are diffused to a larger number of people.
There are several advantages to this particular change. Obviously, it is beneficial to reduce the responsibilities and workload of a single person by giving them to a bigger group. Furthermore, in the event of potential future controversy during elections, there will be more people to blame; the elections director will no longer be an easy scapegoat if something goes awry. This should be a comfort to the current and future elections directors.
The final major change in elections procedure involves the financing of campaigns. Candidates running with a party will be limited to $100 each (for parties containing four or more members), while individual candidates will be able to spend up to $400.
In theory, this change should be highly beneficial to candidates running outside a standing party structure; they will be able to spend much more per person than the members of a party will. However, in reality, this change will not be enough to make campaigning individually a viable option. The psychological stigma held by voters toward non-party candidates is not adequately balanced by the ability to spend more money. In addition, a large enough party will spend more in campaigning overall than an individual candidate can (though it is still less per member). These two advantages — psychological and financial — mean that, if the intent of ASUCR’s change to this part of the election bylaws was to make it possible for anyone to try running for office, there was not enough done to benefit candidates running without a party.
The intent of these changes to ASUCR’s election bylaws seems to have been fixing the mistakes and problems that became apparent in last year’s election. This goal is visible in several of the changes, particularly in the reduction of campaign length and the expansion of the election committee’s powers. However, the end of the ban on laptopping is a slap in the face to the student body, and completely undermines the entire effort to reform future elections. The only way of repairing this damage is to reinstate the ban before elections get started.
A group like ASUCR that needs to rebuild trust after the debacle of the previous year’s election should not insult the students it is supposed to serve by expanding the use of unfair tactics which rely on ignorance to work. Instead, it should act now to reverse its decision and prevent a replay of last year’s events.