A fair and accessible democratic process is essential to the success of any legitimate governing body. It is the only way to ensure that the individuals elected to speak for a given group are truly representative of that group’s values. This week, as students cast their votes in the ASUCR senatorial elections, we will be taking a look at whether or not our own student government has succeeded in establishing an open and equitable electoral system.
We will primarily be discussing the candidates and, more specifically, the access that students have been granted to them thus far. ASUCR has made the process of researching senatorial hopefuls relatively simple by creating an easy-to-navigate database at elections.ucr.edu, the content of which also made up The Highlander’s own election guide last week. At the site, students can read and compare brief bios and “election responses” from each candidate. The website makes for a suitable introduction to the many senatorial nominees on the ballot this year, but students should browse with caution. There is nowhere near enough information in this database to make an informed decision as to which candidate one ought to vote for.
Each election response is, on average, only 50 words in length; and in order to keep their responses within the prescribed word limit, most candidates seem to have boiled their political stances down to general statements about preserving ASUCR’s autonomy, making student “issues” a priority and ensuring that all students’ voices are heard (to name a few). These are all, needless to say, noble goals, but they are goals that one would assume most senatorial candidates aspire to. There is little to no discussion of the actual issues facing the UCR community or how different candidates might address those issues on the site.
All this is not to mention the fact that the website was only updated with current candidates’ information in the last couple weeks. It is always in the interest of those involved with an election to give voters as much time as possible to get acquainted with relevant candidates, and ASUCR’s elections site (while it has its purpose) appears to have faltered a bit on this front.
Though, to be fair, ASUCR never told students that they should base their votes on the information provided them at the elections site. And students should be encouraged to take a more active role in the political process here at UCR—it wouldn’t be the end of the world if voters actually had to leave the safety of their homes to learn about candidates. The only problem is that students haven’t been given much of an opportunity to do even that.
There have been very few public events at which senatorial candidates have had the chance to speak their minds, to advertise their platforms to the UCR community. The most notable of these was undoubtedly the senatorial election debate held last Tuesday at the Bell Tower. Candidates discussed issues important to the future of ASUCR and the general student population at the debate, but the event (the first and last of its kind) didn’t happen until a week before the elections were set to take place.
Even for politically savvy students, a week is not a particularly long time to come to a decision as to who will be leading our student government in the year to come. And what about students that couldn’t make it to the debate? They have been relegated to either tweeting their questions to @UCRHighlander (an alternative advertised to students prior to the debates) or scouring the elections site for whatever relevant guidance they can find.
Clearly, ASUCR is not putting enough effort into ensuring that the student population has enough pertinent information about each candidate to make an informed decision come voting week. There need to be more events at which students can hear directly from senatorial candidates, and they need to begin much earlier in the year. Furthermore, the elections site should be updated more frequently, and it might not be a bad idea to allow candidates to respond to particular issues in the database thereon.
It should be noted that ASUCR has made several important steps in improving the quality of senatorial elections of late, including the outlawing of laptop campaigning and an amendment that (if it passes) will allow students to vote directly for ASUCR positions like president and vice president. But there is considerable work to be done. Students must be made privy to the information they need to make well-thought choices, and they ought to be exposed to it much earlier in the election cycle. The democratic process at UCR depends on it.