Well, it’s that time of year again – the flowers are blooming, the grass is greener, and next year’s candidates for student government will soon spring up for election. The excitement in the air is almost overwhelming. But before you all bolt wildly for the polls in a democratic frenzy, it is important to know that a few things have changed since last spring.
The Associated Students Elections Committee made two significant alterations to the 2001 Election Code (E-Code): A candidate preference system on the ballot, replete with first and second choices, has eliminated the need for a run-off election, and students are now allowed to run for office with a party affiliation next to their name on the ballot. There is little to say about the latter modification; it is simply a bad idea.
With the possible exception of the Student Action Coalition, this year’s “parties” do not live up to their name in any meaningful way, shape or form. They lack consolidated platforms and risk drawing students away from digging up information for themselves. There is simply no reason to create political parties at a university. We are a small, close-knit community, and any candidate worthy of office should be strong enough to stand as an individual. Students would be well advised to ignore the party listings on this year’s ballot and pay more attention to the election committee’s more intriguing revision – the ballot.
The revised ballot system, though problematic, makes the electoral process much easier for students. Every voter is allowed to mark a first and second choice for each office. If no one candidate receives a majority of the votes (50 percent plus one), the two receiving the most first choice votes go into a “run-off.” Your second choice will be counted in the run-off if 1) your first choice did not make it, and 2) your second choice is one of the two individuals remaining. This procedure is less time consuming for voters, but also less democratic.
The obvious problem with the new E-Code is that many individuals will not have a say in the “run-off” vote tally simply because it is impossible for them to predict the eligible candidates. This is not say that preferential voting is impossible. The elections committee hints at the system of ordinal voting used by only a few countries around the globe, such as Australia, Ireland and Sri Lanka. However, unlike their UCSB counterpart, these systems allow voters to make a complete list of preference among all candidates versus picking only two, and the system then uses a complicated sliding scale to assign weighted votes. In short, these systems ensure that no vote is completely wasted. The system at UCSB is imperfect because it is overly simple. Nonetheless, given the state of electoral affairs on campus, the 2001 E-Code seems to be a step in the right direction.
A single ballot that eliminates the need for a run-off is perfect for this university. Last spring, 31 percent of eligible voters turned out for the first round of student elections. When the run-off rolled around a week later, only 13 percent mustered the energy to drag themselves to the polls a second time. Not cynical yet? Consider the fact that these figures represent a relatively large turnout for the student body at UCSB. A system of preferential voting will save all students time and energy and hopefully encourage greater turnout in the one election. The problem remains for the elections committee to develop a more inclusive system of ordinal voting, but students should take greater interest in their government.
Today is opening day for campaigns, and tomorrow marks the first day of two weeks of candidate debates. So try to subdue the apathetic impulses and collect a little information for yourselves. Go to the debates, but beware of buzz phrases such as “increasing awareness and diversity,” “spreading A.S. visibility and accountability” and “unity in the community” – they are all noble goals, but candidates often lack concrete ideas to support them up. Finally, above and beyond anything else, remember to show up at the polls on election day (April 24), because this year, you only get one chance.