Op-Ed: Election system breeds controversy

As a former GW student, 1998 JEC member and co-author of the current JEC charter, I am frankly not surprised that, yet again, the student election system at GW has broken down. The Hatchet’s editorial on this matter (“System overhaul,” March 1) is largely correct in faulting the shortcomings of the system itself in causing the current controversy surrounding the presidential election.

The JEC charter is too long and verbose to be of much practical use. It was written that way, however, to satisfy the belief of some SA senators that every problem can be regulated into oblivion. One result, as we know see, is that potential major problems – such as the Bob Simon-sponsored party – have no clear consequences, while minor nits like the size of posters are regulated in excessive detail. There is no sense of proportion.

The Hatchet also questioned the practice of having one “penalty” assessed for every violation, regardless of magnitude. I agree, and I must take responsibility for that idea. When proposing the re-write in 1999, I lobbied for the abolition of the old, fine-based system, where each specific offense had a varying fine attached to it.

As a JEC member, I had seen too many instances of the committee not assessing any penalty because they believed the fine required by the rules was too excessive in a given circumstance. By removing the discretion, I reasoned, candidates were more likely to be penalized for their actions. On further review, however, the equalization of all offenses has only managed to magnify small offenses into potentially disqualifying errors. That was not, and should never be, the operating premise of election rules.

The editorial’s other main point revolved around the function of the JEC itself. On this point, I again concur. The JEC is expected to fill too many roles – rule-maker, prosecutor, court and organizer of the election itself. It is simply too much for five or even nine members. I would suggest that separate bodies be established.

The SA president could, during transition, name an elections commissioner who would handle the logistics of the elections. A three-member “Elections Court” could be appointed to hear violations as a trial court with the current Student Court maintaining appellate jurisdiction. The commissioner could appoint paid deputies to handle prosecution of violations, counting of ballots and so forth. Rulemaking power would remain with the Senate, as the popularly elected student legislature.

But above all else, people need to stop taking elections to irrational extremes. Too many otherwise decent students have abused the system in recent years by hiding behind vague and misleading rules. Sometimes people need to let things go, even if they do not agree with a particular decision or they think something is “unconstitutional.” That does not mean people should not treat their work seriously – it just means they should recognize that student governing documents are not precise instruments of power.

-The writer is a 2000 GW graduate.

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