Forum: Palm foment free speech, ideas

Does anyone like palmcarding? I am sure the answer is a resounding no. I have palmcarded and been palmcarded during my years on campus, and I never enjoyed either. That said, why should we continue to palmcard? The answer is to get the word out about elections. If the Student Association is to be an effective representation of the students the candidates that most represent the desire of the student body must be elected.

Postering and campaigning are not effective ways of promoting a message. The Joint Elections Commission a few years ago eliminated the mandatory “Candidate Forum” and “Meet the Candidates Nights” since the only people who attended were the candidates and their supporters. Most of the questions asked were plants designed to promote one candidate’s stance.

Palmcarding is effective. Student organizations palmcard for their events. Even SA President David Burt, while campaigning on a platform to eliminate palmcarding, palmcarded. It is also one of the only ways the candidates can effectively reach out to graduate and off-campus students. The cost of mailing to the off-campus students, who make up the vast majority of students at GW, is prohibitive. There is no question palmcarding is an effective method of reaching those students.

I argue, as did some of my SA Senate colleagues, that this is a matter of free speech. No one is forced to take a palm card You can walk on the opposite side of the street as the palmcarders or simply politely tell them you are not interested. Is it annoying being palmcarded? Yes, it is, but some would argue for example, that the protests during the inauguration were annoying as well. I doubt anyone would want to prevent them from protesting.

Palmcarding also has the unfortunate distinction of being addressed in the section of the Elections Charter dealing with bribery. While I disagree that we were all “elected by bribery,” I understand some people might select a candidate by their preference for computer disks, balloon animals, Coke, Rice Krispy treats, pens, coupons or condoms – all of which have been distributed over the past few election cycles. I hope no one would be “bribed” by an item costing less than 50 cents, though.

Awaiting Burt’s signature is a bill I sponsored to address some of these issues by eliminating the distribution of “giveaways” on election day. Candidates will still be allowed to distribute literature, buttons and stickers. This should allow candidates to convince students to vote for them based on their platform, not on their choice of giveaways. On non-election days, other giveaways are permitted. Even these, though, are constrained by the spending limits imposed in the Elections Charter. This is a compromise I am confident will address some of the concerns of students brought forth in the petition.

Some wonder if 100 students signed a petition to have palmcarding eliminated, why no senator voted to eliminate palmcarding? I offer the following points in response. This is the only time I can recall in my seven terms as senator that we have rejected a proposal brought to a vote by petition. Last year alone, we passed resolutions urging restrictions on credit card vendors and opposing the drug provisions of the Higher Education Reauthorization Act. One of the often-debated ideas in politics is whether a representative should vote based on his or her opinions or those of his or her constituency. In this case, I argue for the former for one reason in particular: those of us in the Senate possess an experience few others on this campus do in having run for and been elected to office.

The Senate is not the last. The SA Constitution offers another method for students to have their voices heard. If students feel so strongly about this issue, they can submit a petition with the signatures of ten percent of the student body, and the question will appear on the ballot of the upcoming election.

We do not need regulations restricting palmcarding. If the candidates agree palmcarding is unnecessary, they can decide not to palmcard. Some will wonder if that is possible, but it happened in a contest not too many years ago.

I encourage everyone to take the palm cards that are offered to them. Look at them, ask the candidates or their supporters questions and make an informed decision as to who should lead our student government. If everyone makes that informed decision, we will have a stronger, more legitimized student government that truly represents and responds to the concerns of all students.

-The writer, a Ph.D. student in engineering, is an SA senator (G-SEAS).

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