GUSA Senate Stumps Voters
Published: Friday, September 28, 2012
Updated: Friday, September 28, 2012 00:09
Without well-informed voters, GUSA senate elections are at best a popularity contest. Typically, they hinge on name recognition. At worst, they are a total guessing game.
But these elections matter, and while everyone involved in the process has some share of responsibility for keeping students informed, GUSA could make several feasible changes to better educate the electorate.
Senate elections for Georgetown University Student Association, like those for the executive, use an instant runoff ballot, meaning that voters must rank candidates in order of preference. While this system can be effective for building consensus, it also requires a much greater level of voter engagement; while it’s simple to check off one’s top choice, it’s quite difficult to make an educated decision on whom to rank sixth versus seventh. Instant runoff is indeed a desirable voting mechanism, especially for student elections, but we must appreciate the consequent demand for more information about the candidates.
Students vote for one at-large senator and one senator for their respective residential area. There are seven candidates for the at-large seat and a similar number in most dormitory races, and their names are the only information provided on the ballot. Assuming most students haven’t carefully reviewed the candidates’ Facebook pages or campaign coverage in the student media, “vote for me” posters around campus are about all they can call upon when casting their vote.
But there’s a national precedent for remedying this issue. Many local elections provide ballots that include short candidate statements, which — while inherently self-serving — give voters some last-minute insight into the candidates’ platforms. Voters might be able to connect a name to a face after reading a statement, or they might identify a policy stance of personal importance. These statements are usually not very substantive, but they’re a legitimate starting place.
Local jurisdictions also often mail registered voters candidate information guides, which offer more in-depth explanations of a candidate’s background and positions. This serves as a valuable supplement to media coverage, giving candidates direct contact with the voters.
An informed electorate is a basic prerequisite in any democratic process. The GUSA senate does commendable work on behalf of students, but its ability to govern is directly tied to its ability to execute thoughtful and thorough elections.