With a budget of $2.5 million and the ear of the administration, the Undergraduate Student Government holds immense power. With great power must come great transparency.
The Awards and Elections Committee just announced the results of the USG executive board elections after a dramatic and eventful few weeks of campaigning, infractions and hearings. Voter turnout was at an all-time high, but engagement and awareness were not.
The AEC, a group of USG seniors and students-at-large dedicated to supervising and certifying elections, has been shrouded in a web of anonymity, obscurity and bureaucracy. Students were unaware of what was going on throughout the process.
Hullabaloo reporters were left confused about the election certification process due to poor communication. When our student media is left out of the conversation and only a select few student leaders are aware of how decisions are being made and votes are being counted, democracy is not operating at its fullest capacity.
Kicking off a tumultuous election season by retroactively rescinding the Progressive Voter Coalition’s status an hour before its forum was scheduled to start, the AEC has been consistently non-transparent about its behavior. This instance was a clear demonstration of how a lack of transparency can hurt students.
Though the AEC was just following vague bylaws, its process was opaque and confusing. The student body was not allowed to know who submitted the infraction against the PVC, what the evidence was or details about the decision-making process.
The PVC appealed to the Judicial Council, which upheld the AEC’s decision. Last Tuesday, the senate voted to veto the Judicial Council’s decision. This was an impactful declaration of support for the student body in setting precedent, but it came too late to reverse the damage the AEC had already done.
This is not the only instance of AEC’s anonymity infringing on the rights of students to be fully informed participants in student government elections. After election voting ended, the AEC took two days to hold infraction hearings.
It did not tell students when the results would be announced or what was happening, nor did it make any attempt to explain what these infractions entailed.
Following the hearings, the AEC decides whether or not a candidate committed an infraction and decides to subtract a certain number of percentage points from their vote totals. This is a closed process. Only candidates are allowed to see how many votes they have received.
The AEC maintains that this information remains confidential to protect candidates and students who submit infractions. Though student privacy is important, candidates are running for public leadership positions, and if they violate a by-law, the student body has a right to know. Also, students submitting infractions should be protected, but the majority of people submitting these reports are candidates themselves and their campaign teams. Certainly, their privacy in attempting to sling mud at their opponents should not be respected.
The student body receives a graphic from USG stating the percentage each candidate won. A small disclaimer below it states that these values might be altered due to infractions. This note and the quiet fact that the percentages might not add up to 100 is the only indication students have that the percentage of votes a candidate receives and the percentage that the USG permits students to see are not the same number.
Imagine if this were the process for national elections. Districts would report polling numbers to government officials. These officials would then hold a meeting to subtract a certain number of votes from each candidate before reporting their results to the press and populace. Nobody is allowed to know what happens in the meeting or what the original numbers are in the interest of protecting the candidates. This hypothetical situation is ridiculous and would never be permitted in a truly democratic society.
When students do not know what infractions, run-offs, coalitions or committees are, that is a problem. When decisions are made behind closed doors, that is a problem. When an organization decides how many votes to dock from a candidate without telling the voters what is happening, that is a problem.
If USG wants to call itself a democratic body that represents the interests of students, then it has a long and arduous uphill battle to climb in the coming senator elections. A town hall hosted by USG to discuss AEC bylaws is a step in the right direction, but it will take a marathon of footfalls to regain the trust of the student body and right its election process.
Staff Editorials are written weekly by members of the Tulane Hullabaloo Board and approved by the full Board by a 2/3 majority vote.