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The Daily Tar Heel

A vote for sane elections: Flaws in student election law must be addressed in new bills

Next week, Student Congress will review changes to election law that, if passed, could make this year’s elections dramatically more student-friendly. By reducing the number of signatures required to be placed on the student body president ballot and making minor changes to election law, Speaker Zach De La Rosa’s and Adam Horowitz’s bills take a step in the right direction, but still do not go far enough to change this mediocre process into one that adequately reflects potential candidates’ true legitimacy.

Currently, candidates for SBP need 1,250 unique student signatures to be placed on the ballot — a number that has increased by 450 in the last two years. This increase was supposed to reduce the number of “joke” candidates running for office, but has instead seen the entire process turned into a perennial three-ring circus. If you disagree with me, I recommend you check out last year’s Board of Elections fiasco.

If Student Congress truly wants to fix election law to reward viable candidates and reduce frustration, they should learn from my experience as a candidate in the last election season and fix three critical flaws in the current system.

Flaw number one: Signature counts alone don’t accurately gauge a candidate’s viability.
Last year, candidate Rick Ingram collected a record 2,945 signatures, but ultimately finished in third place at the end of the election.

While important, they are only part of a successful campaign package. Candidates should also be required to provide students with the information necessary to make an informed decision. These should include a platform, a website and a minimum level of debate participation. Students have a right to judge candidates on more than just Pit presence.

Given that most students know little about student government, let alone election law, it is understandable how hundreds of students unknowingly disqualify themselves by signing multiple petitions.

Last year, of the 1,861 students who signed my petition for SBP, more than 500 were disqualified.
Student Congress should either abolish this single-signature policy or make changes that allow students to make an informed decision before signing. This leads me to flaw number three of the current system.

Flaw number three: Banning public campaigning during the signature-gathering process forces students to select a candidate based on little to no information. The result is a race by campaigns to solicit — or bug — an ever-increasing number of students to ensure certification.

This process of Pit-sitting, screaming, cheering and begging cheapens student involvement in the election process and turns off many students before a single candidate is even on the ballot.

These three flaws create a perverse incentive system that discourages candidates from focusing on the key issues, such as tuition, and encourage a popularity-focused system of machine-style politics that has repeatedly failed to drive results once in office.

Student Congress can go a long way to electing student candidates that are results driven and more focused on representing students than padding their own resumes by incorporating these suggestions into De La Rosa’s election law.

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