Over the course of a year in the Student Association, certain themes continually reappear. Borrowing on a familiar one, this year’s election season has already seen significant controversy stemming from decisions by the Joint Elections Committee – the body charged with overseeing an impartial student election. This year’s controversy centers on competing contentions that members of the JEC have purported bias either for or against Ben Traverse’s Coalition for Reform slate. The internecine fighting over political minutiae – regardless of whose claims are more valid – comes as a direct detriment to students looking for an end to the status quo in the SA.
In the past few weeks Justin Neidig – chair of the JEC and former Senate chief of staff with a long history of enmity with Traverse – filed several complaints against his slate, the Coalition for Reform. Arguing the slate made use of Internet campaigning ahead of a prescribed starting date, the JEC assessed the entire slate with four rules violations – three short of the threshold at which a candidate is kicked off the ballot. Traverse contested the validity of such action in Student Court on Wednesday. In a separate, yet related incident, four members of the JEC sent President Omar Woodard a recommendation to remove the fifth member – former SA Senator Christopher Jenkins – on allegations he unlawfully leaked JEC documents to the slate.
Frankly, it is irrelevant whose claims ultimately prove justified; the fact that such actions are being debated exposes how partisan involvement in overseeing elections corrupts the integrity of elections. Students who have either served in the SA, were candidates themselves at one point in time or have served on the campaign teams for other candidates should not be permitted to serve on the JEC. While this page feels uncomfortable ascribing definitive blame on the JEC, there at the very least exists the perception of bias. The easiest way such a situation could be avoided is by appointing JEC members without past SA history.
Each moment this controversy besieges the process is one not focused on the ideas each candidate brings to the debate. While the SA forged new student interest through an uplifting 2004 campaign and a relatively scandal-free year, its progress is seriously jeopardized by renewed political infighting during this election season. Instead of focusing on debating and solving student problems, the campaign is focused more on issues that just don’t matter. Whether or not a Web site was posted before an artificial deadline pales in importance to addressing the quality of food service and student representation on the Board of Trustees.
Students will never obtain the representation they deserve on the Board of Trustees so long as President Trachtenberg has an excuse to say students are unable to substantially collaborate on complicated matters. Exhibiting gross incompetence in handling student elections will serve as yet another justification. If students are unable to manage their own affairs, they certainly will be incapable of doing so in the upkeep of a major University.
The JEC must stop diverting attention to small-picture issues that have little bearing on the debate. Instead, it should focus on preventing larger issues – such as last year’s bribery scandal – that actually endanger student democracy. Otherwise, this election season appears ready to bring more of the same.