Survivor: Student Government Edition

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Voter turnout in this year's Student Government elections may end up being the lowest in decades. Of course, that may have something to do with the fact that the contest is beginning to look less like an election and more like an episode from one of the later seasons of “Survivor” in which, facing flagging ratings, the network tries to rouse interest to make viewers care with some grand display that only makes them look more desperate.

One week ago, five presidential candidates stood before the campus. At the end of the week, only two remained. The first to go fell victim to fraud, while another fell because of some poor advertising choices. The third, possibly only running as a joke, dropped out, apparently convinced that the system was quite capable of making a mockery of itself without any outside assistance.

That is to say, SG elections looks as bad as, well, this time last year. The usual suspects — deception, fraud, conspiracy, falsification of documents — were trotted out in the aftermath of revelations that the Yaman Desai/Whitney Langston campaign misrepresented itself in an attempt to catch the Madison Gardner/Antonio Guevara campaign on some minor campaign finance violation. The apparent motive? A new rule that demands that a campaign must be immediately disqualified after a certain amount of fines.

This year, though, SG has managed to find a new source of embarrassment: an overly stringent system of rules that resulted in another campaign's disqualification. The punishment in the Desai case was warranted. But mere days later, the swift hammer of SG justice fell again, knocking out Gardner and Guevara for a comparatively trivial violation. In the weeks prior to the election, Gardner's campaign took a photo promoting his candidacy that included someone who later filed to run for office herself. Such association — even as nothing more than a background figure — is a violation of the SG election code and warranted Gardner’s removal from the ballot, according to the Election Supervisory Board.

The disqualification revealed that, in SG, justice is swift as well as blind, especially to any mitigating factors or a sense of proportionality. By disqualifying Gardner and Guevara, the ESB went too far according to any common sense understanding of what is fair.

The ESB's defenders, including the SG judicial court, which rightly denied review of the case, point out that the punishment meted out by the board is nothing more than what the SG election code allows. Count this as the second indictment of a code that has created an electoral field so confined that no one can play on it without breaking at least one of its many rules. The first charge against the code might be that its recent “get tough” revision with respect to cheating has made campaigns more eager to scrutinize their opponents' pamphlets than their platforms.

This election cycle has shown the failure of the code as a governing document. First, it failed to prevent the cheating it was supposed to scare everyone away from. Second, it confirmed that the discretion granted to the ESB is far too great and far too little — in the first case because the punishments seem to vary widely from year to year and in the second because the word “disqualification” is included in too many provisions.

Following this election, the code will no doubt be revised again. But SG should not be the group to revise it. Letting future candidates build in loopholes for themselves for use during election season again would not be wise.

Perhaps abysmal voter turnout will put SG on notice: Clean up or get out. This year has shown yet again that SG elections too often offer voters nothing but a sham democracy where what the students think never seems to matter. Maybe the $112,800 that SG gets every year would be better spent on a few more math lecturers or on eliminating student co-pays at UHS.