Kinjo Kiema: Why it’s best to leave money out of student elections

Kinjo Kiema is a freshman majoring in political communication.

You’ve already seen all the posts on Facebook and Twitter: It’s Student Association election season, and some candidates are very prepared to campaign, armed with multimedia, slogans and professional websites.

But here’s something else that’s going through my mind: How much are candidates spending?

The campaign spending limit for the top SA spots is $1,000. That’s not too far off from the amount of money a freshman spends in Colonial Cash in a whole semester – and it is blown in one two-week election in which only 20 percent of the student population historically ends up voting.

The election’s spending limit is too high, creating an unequal playing field and an incentive to spend on frivolous and gimmicky t-shirts, buttons and even shot glasses.

The money dilutes the discussion about real campus issues, and these props trivialize candidates’ positions by making races about flashiness, not ideas. Even though I’m only a freshman, I’ve seen my fair share of shot glasses from one of last year’s candidates around campus.

We have to consider that those who have no way of coming up with that chunk of change also might be dissuaded from running. Students here need the most qualified people in these top advocacy positions at a University that spends a billion dollars a year. The students we elect have the biggest say of all of us on how GW acts on its priorities.

The funding limit isn’t merely arbitrary. In past years, winning candidates have come very close to this limit, with current SA president Julia Susuni spending $968 on her campaign and 2011-2012 SA president Ashwin Narla spending $920 on his.

This is no level playing field. Students who know they would never be able to spend this kind of money on a student government election would automatically be at an extreme disadvantage.

There’s history to back this up. Benjamin Pincus, a candidate for president two years ago, spent less than $60. Guess what happened: He came in dead last in the five-way race, garnering just 5 percent of the vote. Evidently his creative approach wasn’t enough to outdo his high-spending opponents.

Former SA presidential hopeful John Bennett, who spent $975 on his campaign in 2012, said it is likely that students didn’t vote at GW because most students feel that they are minimally impacted by action the SA takes, and because students are alienated by candidates’ self-absorption.

He’s right: Low voter turnout is evidence to the fact that the SA needs to make itself much more accessible to students and change its perception on campus. Reducing the campaign spending limit – thereby making students feel like they have more in common with people vying to be their leaders – would be one way of achieving that goal.

A student government should be composed of serious liaisons between the student body and the administration. At a school where it sometimes seems like there is already a large disconnect between students and administrators, this is an especially significant role.

It’s a shame that elections at a school chock-full of politically active students – who supposedly have an interest in changing politics as usual in the District – have fallen victim to one of the city’s most well-known and egregious vices.

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