Senators unanimously rejected a proposal by SA President David Burt seeking an end to palmcarding during SA elections. While the rejection of the bill could leave students vulnerable to harassment in the face of overzealous office-seekers, it preserves candidates’ freedom to spread their campaign message. Senators also approved a bill prohibiting “bribes” to voters on election day – a move in the right direction, but senators should push for more.
While some reform may be necessary to a practice many students find annoying, an absolute prohibition of palmcarding would obstruct candidates’ ability to communicate with voters. Still, the senate should take action to lessen the detrimental impact of palmcards on students and the campus. Palmcards often litter public spaces, keep campaign workers out of class, annoy fellow students and generally contribute to the stress of the campaign season.
Palmcards are accompanied by incentives that in the past have included free soft drinks, computer disks and even canisters of Play-Doh. The SA is right to at least partly curtail what the senators themselves recognize as outright bribery. But the measure is largely symbolic since candidates are free to entice voters with gifts during the remainder of the campaigns. Recognizing the practice as unethical, the SA should restore the integrity of student elections by enforcing a ban on voter incentives. The elections should be a contest of ideas – not a competition to see who can hand out the most enticing freebies.
In dealing with election reform, the SA should be careful to balance the candidates’ right to get their messages across to the voters, with the equally compelling interest of maintaining the integrity and civility of the elections. Tuesday’s votes amounted to an equivocation rather than bold steps toward that goal.