Lyndsey Wajert: Maintain a strong and effective Joint Elections Committee

Before President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign that easily attracted the under-25 voting bloc, politicians and parties spent much time and capital persuading young people to “get out the vote.” Looking back on these campaigns, I can’t help but think of popular celebrities like Diddy and Mariah Carey who used their fame to urge Generation Y to “vote or die.”

Political apathy is nothing new, but at a collegiate election level, it can be rampant. Students are rarely as enthused about Student Association elections as they are about their internships, their classes or the national elections. Students have to be either ignorant of what the SA is or disenchanted by its record, if only 20 percent of the student body takes the time to vote for its student representatives.

The Joint Elections Committee, which oversees the rules and regulations for the student elections, is pledging to do more to promote student involvement in the voting process. While the committee has promoted elections to a degree in the past it is primarily tasked with holding the candidates accountable for following election rules.

Phil Gardner, chair of the Joint Elections Committee, said that the committee would rely slightly more on the reported violations from the public while taking a less active role in actually searching for violations.

Gardner seems sincere in his desire to balance the current Joint Elections Committee task with the increased focus on turnout. But the JEC won’t be able to do both effectively.

The Joint Elections Committee needs to use its power to ensure elections are fair, transparent and legal. The committee has definitely gone overboard in exercising its power over elections in previous years – something Gardner wants to avoid this year. Upperclassmen may remember in 2009 when Kyle Boyer, a popular SA presidential candidate, faced charges of exceeding his spending limit because he borrowed a car. In a controversial move, the committee counted the charge as a violation and disqualified Boyer from the ballot, and since then, the JEC has tried to be less meticulous in defining violations.

But going from picking apart campaign rules to “letting the kids play” as Gardner stated may not yield the best results. The committee should not only report “egregious” violations. Voters may actually miss out on important information about the candidates, and the JEC could miss out on important “minor” violations. The Joint Elections Committee serves as a necessary, knowledgeable watchdog in an election process that can be complicated and too easily shrouded in mystery. Students need to know when their potential future SA president can’t stay within a budget. Students in organizations who need to obey rules for hanging event flyers should be confident that their SA Senator obeys slightly stricter campaign postering rules.

In terms of the new role the JEC wants to take, there should of course be more student involvement in the Student Association elections. Twenty percent of student turnout is an embarrassment. But convincing students to vote should ultimately be a job for individual student organizations or Program Board – groups that are typically responsible for getting students involved and excited for on-campus issues.

While it is problematic if the JEC attempts to remove candidates from the ballot as a result of campaign violations, this year’s committee has an understanding that such a result is not good for the student body. But it is important that the Joint Elections Committee continues to serve its primary role of holding the candidates accountable – and just that.

Lyndsey Wajert, a senior majoring in journalism, is a senior columnist.

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