Staff Editorial: Enfranchise everyone: time to welcome reform

Instead of welcoming online voting, a handful of student leaders have chosen to make the debate about election reform a race issue. The black Student Association senators stormed out of last Tuesday’s meeting, claiming they weren’t getting enough time to talk. One senator called the executive vice president’s alleged actions racist and on Thursday the head of the largest black student group on campus wrote a letter to about 50 student leaders, black activists and GW employees, blasting the SA.

At the end of a semester plagued by cultural strife – from the Muslim posters to the swastika drawings – the last thing our community needs is more divisiveness. This page has consistently argued for unity between our University’s disparate groups and maturity among its campus leaders, and it will call for a calm to the chaos once again. This is not the time for scandal-mongering and twisting of facts about serious issues.

The fact of the matter is that out of 20,000 undergraduate and graduate students, less than 1,800 voted for the SA president in last spring’s runoff election. When 91 percent of the student body does not elect its student leader, there is something wrong with the system, and this page agrees with the recently enacted reforms. Despite the opponents of the legislation, much good will come from online voting.

Electronic voting currently exists for the elections but students can only use designated computer labs to vote for leaders in the SA, Program Board and the Marvin Center Governing Board. For Class Council elections, one can vote from any wired residence hall on campus – making it significantly easier to cast a ballot. This lowering of the barrier to vote could enfranchise many more students in the general elections. Although Black Student Union President Charles Basden said the new system “diminishes competition and creates an environment ripe for student apathy,” this page believes voting online would do the opposite. By being able to click a link in an e-mail after rolling out of bed or taking a two-minute break from listening to a class lecture, the new system allows myriad more opportunities to get involved in student government.

Basden said in a meeting with The Hatchet’s editorial board that he fears a “closed-door, in-the-dorm election” would hurt GW and minority candidates in particular. In his letter to campus leaders, the senior wrote: “This system tips the scale in favor of majority candidates who will benefit from the lack of the casual students’ exposure to the diverse candidate pool.” Firstly, all contenders for office would be equally affected by online voting; candidates of all ethnicities would be charged with adjusting to the new system. Secondly, it is unlikely that the new system would eliminate the campus activism seen near Kogan Plaza – free candy and loud music will continue to grace H Street this spring.

A sizeable portion of GW’s population isn’t even around to experience the campaign activities each year. One of the most disenfranchised groups of students are many juniors studying abroad in the spring who can only vote via absentee ballot. With the new system, anyone with Internet access to the myGW site can practice democracy – even from undemocratic lands.

The nuts and bolts of the process are not without foreseeable complications, though. Basden rightfully said that voter fraud and intimidation are more easily accomplished by decentralizing voting. It is incumbent upon the Joint Election Committee and its observers to enforce all rules aggressively. Any impropriety on election day, whether by sharing Web login information to others or knocking on doors and peddling votes, should not be tolerated. Perhaps candidates who authorize or condone efforts to subvert the new system should be immediately disqualified.

Yet, despite potential exploitation, the benefits outweigh the costs of moving the Web-based system. Change can be a difficult thing to swallow, especially if brought on quickly. The executive, perhaps, should not have called a special meeting last week and – in the eyes of some – rushed through the legislation. But if the detractors of the election reforms really believe in enfranchising all of GW’s students, then they should curtail their wrangling and embrace online voting.

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