Dear F&M Student Body, This is a call to action. Over the past year we’ve become out-right disgusted by the lack of responsibility, credibility, and integrity of our system of student government and with some former and/or current members of its administrations. We’re told constantly that elected officials should, first and foremost, be servants of the people who elect them. Why then does this maxim not extend in theory from Washington to Hartman Green? How can we be expected to hold our leadership accountable on a national stage when we can’t even do it on a college campus? Rules are written under the belief that they will at least be followed, if not by all, by those who write and enforce them. Why is it, then, our representatives selectively enforce them? And when those rules are enforced, the corresponding punishments are at best arbitrary, and at worst show a clear disposition of our so called “leaders” to favor their friends. Take for example the rule for Diplomatic Congress Elections stating:
There will be no mass mailings of any type including but not limited to: campus mailings, event mailings, class emails, house emails, physical campus mailings, or pre-made administrative lists. This includes emailing members of these pre-made lists on an individual basis. (Important here is the phrase “including but not limited to.”)
A candidate can clearly violate that rule by having emails sent out to every member of Greek life on campus, or sports teams on their behalf, and receive a slap on the wrist, a sanction which they can then violate anyway. Meanwhile, conflicting reports of campaign sign removal, with little evidence, result in the accused being forced to take down all their signs.
Furthermore, it is in this atmosphere that voter intimidation and fraud can occur. Most would accept that a secret ballot is a given in any election. Yet in our elections some officials of the Diplomatic Congress seem to think it’s okay to leer at voters as they mark their ballots, resulting in some who feel uncomfortable or awkward. What more, is it appropriate that those who oversee the polls are in contact with certain candidates the day of election? Even if they aren’t counseling candidates (i.e.: giving them unofficial vote tallies or informing them they need to ramp up campaigning), there should be no possibility for that question to arise. Those who see or are aware of such questionable behavior, then, have an equally uncomfortable choice to make: report to the Election Committee, with the knowledge they are reporting one officer of the Diplomatic Congress to another, report to an administrator and have them serve as an intermediary and seem as though they are crying to Mommy, or remain silent and passively accept what is nothing short of corruption.
We are supposedly bright students at a highly selective liberal arts college, yet our student government is rampantly flawed and biased, making the sham elections of third-world, tin-pot dictatorships look plausible. The Diplomatic Congress has existed for five years now and for that whole existence it has been plagued with charges of corruption and electoral impropriety. Theoretically, this new Election Committee changed things. It hasn’t, and until the oversight of the elections is divorced from those who have a vested interest in seeing their friends elected, democracy will continue to flounder at dear old F&M. Benjamin Franklin would be sick if he could see the government of the school his 200 pounds founded.
So what, then, can be done? For starters, as mentioned above, the officers of the Diplomatic Congress need to no longer comprise any part of the Election Committee. In the most positive light, it is understand- able they would not want to negatively rule against friends and colleagues who they believe are best suited for an office, however, even this unintentional bias is unethical, and it rapidly descends to the other extreme of passive or active collusion by election officials with candidates. In their place, the Election Committee should be appointed at the beginning of each Spring semester by the Houses, which have no role or vested interest in the election or its outcome. The new 10 person committee (two members appointed by each House) should be composed only of graduating seniors, who have never sat as elected members of the Diplomatic Congress. This committee would be charged with running and overseeing elections for the next year. They could alter the Election Rules to address issues from prior elections (or do so in the aftermath of an election), with such changes being publicized to the campus at large and contestable thereby. In the event a conflict of interest arose and a member refused to recuse him or herself, the committee could remove them by a two-thirds vote or the House which appointed them could also force them to stand down.
Other actions can also be taken to give our elections legitimacy. Clear standards should be carved in stone for voting the day of election. Once more, the closest thing to a secret ballot should be attempted. Simply, all this would entail would be a voter walking up, showing their ID, gaining their ballot, and then being instructed to walk to a free table to mark the ballot before depositing it in the ballot box. Likewise, a standard must be set for how study abroad students should vote. An email informing them they may vote by emailing the Diplomatic Congress account, or as was the case with Class Presidential Elections this year, no email for instructions as to voting at all, is completely unacceptable. Instead, a ballot, with all candidates and room for write-ins, just as the real paper ballot looks, should be sent out from an Election Committee email used solely for and by its members.
Finally, why is it that the actual results are never published? Instead, only the winners’ names go out, with a hearty thank you, but our commiserations to the losers. This is but one example of a failure of transparency. The Election Committee should publish the exact results, i.e. who garnered what portion of the vote. Further, the Election Committee should publish its own workings. Any issues reported to the Election Committee should be noted and what action was taken, if any. In this way only an as nonpartisan-as-possible group of students acts as the sole overseer and point of contact for elections, and emails from the public or candidates to the Election Committee don’t end up being answered by officers of the Diplomatic Congress currently not sitting on said committee.
As was stated at the beginning of this letter, this is a call to action. These issues and the persons who exploit them are not the first of their kind, nor are they the only that exist, and without serious reform the process will continue to be abused. What is even worse, however, are not the flaws in the system, or the act of abusing them, but the fact that after they are abused, those who do so have little pause over what they have done and no qualms about boasting both publicly and privately about how they cheated the system. Resolution of these issues is not only a question of today but of tomorrow, and not kicking the problem down to whoever eventually decides to solve it.
So let us take action, and starting now hold those to account who need to be. Quite frankly, F&M, we’re too good for this farce and it’s about damn time it ended.
Philip Ehrig ’13
Lisa Yosevitz ’12
And all those who dare to be
“radical” and contemplate real reform.
Questions or comments? Email Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org.