In the past five years, GUSA has held three disputed presidential elections, a track record that places the student association roughly on par with Libya, Pakistan and – we shudder to think – Florida.

It’s true, though. In 2004, the Election Commission disqualified the winning candidate, Kelley Hampton (SFS ’05), for serious violations of its election bylaws, only to reinstate her after two frustrating months of appeals. Then in 2006, Twister Murchison (SFS ’08) became president even though he finished seven percentage points behind his opponent, who was disqualified for a violation of the supposedly improved election bylaws.

This year’s election debacle was easily the biggest, however, because this time, there were no bylaw violations. There was no foul play. Against all odds, GUSA pulled off something that it can apparently only do two-fifths of the time: a valid election.

Following the rules of instant runoff voting, D.W. Cartier (COL ’09) emerged as the winner.

But at the urging of the Election Commission, the GUSA Senate – that bastion of public integrity – threw out the results of that election and ordered a new one. Citing widespread confusion over the rules of instant runoff voting, the commission and the senate decided that the results were invalid. Not totally invalid, of course, since it still barred the bottom four candidates from the runoff election, but still invalid enough to deny Cartier the office he had rightfully won.

So, after doing a woefully inadequate job communicating the rules of instant runoff voting to students, the Election Commission decided that the student body couldn’t possibly have made an informed decision the first time around and cavalierly overruled their decision.

We take little solace in knowing that the runoff election ultimately led to the victory of Patrick Dowd (SFS ’09) and James Kelly (COL ’09), the least bad candidates in the field (the best one can hope for in GUSA). However one felt about his platform, Cartier was the clear and unequivocal winner of last month’s election and would be president right now were it not for the Election Commission’s indefensible decision to change the rules in the middle of the game. Now, Dowd becomes the second president in three years to take office in spite of losing a presidential election.

There’s little use in railing against that electoral injustice, however, since it’s unlikely to ever be rectified. Instead, we’d like to offer some suggestions that might begin to curb the unmitigated incompetence and open corruption that have unfortunately become a cornerstone of GUSA elections.

First, GUSA must lengthen the election season to give candidates at least three weeks to campaign. The stunted election campaign doesn’t give the most promising candidates a chance to rise above the rest of the field. In a crowded year like this one, students more often than not end up voting for the one candidate whose name they recognize.

Second, if future campaigns are likely to be as crowded as this one, GUSA should institute primary elections. The first two weeks of the campaign would be devoted to the primary, and only candidates who receive 15 percent or more should advance to the final election a week later. This will separate the wheat from the chaff and allow for a more thoughtful debate between serious candidates.

Finally, and most importantly, GUSA must reform the way it chooses its Election Commissioner. Right now, the previous year’s Senior Class Committee appoints the Communications Chair, who also serves as the Election Commissioner. But that committee does little that would qualify its members to run elections and only about 10 percent of the duties of the Communications Chair – according to the current occupant of that job, Maura Cassidy (COL ’08) – is GUSA-related. Most of that committee’s job description is reserved for party planning and fundraising. Turn the responsibility over to a group of students under the advising of a professor or teaching assistant in the government department, and cut back on electoral illegitimacy.

As we have said before, GUSA may be a lost cause. But it will never claw its way into a dignified position on campus if it can’t even hold fair elections half the time. Let’s hope Pat Dowd is the last president whose name goes down in the record books with an asterisk next to it.

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