The road to a better code

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Finally, all is quiet on the Student Government front. The bombs have mercifully stopped falling just short of total devastation — that is, a redo of the entire election. But as students emerged, bleary-eyed from the relative safety of their circuitous, dimly lit detours through the Union and Main Building — taken to avoid the trenches on the West Mall — a curiously desolate scene awaited them at the polls. Thor Lund and Wills Brown emerged victorious Thursday night after fewer than half of the original executive alliances remained on the ballot. A month of controversy, grandstanding and litigation seems to compel the conclusion that this tumultuous election cycle was doomed from the start.

The damning mistakes, the abuses of discretion and the cold, calculating strategies deployed by the various camps can all trace their origins to a deeply flawed electoral system given life by a stressed and broken election code.

Two problems with the code made this type of election almost inevitable. First, a provision that demanded immediate disqualification for exceeding the mandated spending limit by any more than 20 percent. This limit — far too low to allow candidates to campaign to such a large campus in the first place — made disqualification more important than deliberation. Second, the vast discretion given to the Election Supervisory Board allowed it to make decisions so incredibly different from years past as to call into question its objectivity in many circles. This editorial board disagreed with the ESB’s original disqualification of Madison Garner and Antonio Guevara, and that judgment stands. But the fact that the election code even allowed the ESB to make such a despotic judgment is much more alarming.

This year, the code was revised by some of the people it governed during this election. Both John Lawler and Yaman Desai participated in writing the code as representatives, and Gardner observed its evolution as a member of the SG executive board. For Desai and Gardner, the rules that they wrote and influenced became the weapons that brought them down; they became the agents of their own destruction.

And even though there are two campaigns that were not disqualified and that ran relatively clean campaigns, their apparent innocence and adherence to the rules is not evidence of the code’s success.

The effectiveness of a set of rules should not be judged by its degree of intolerance for rule-breaking or even by whether the rules are followed. Rules are designed to order a process in pursuit of some end. It is by its efficacy in this regard that the code’s success should be judged. But in place of order, the code brought chaos. In place of a neutral supervisory board, it brought a firing squad. And in place of an election, it brought a fight to the death.

As a governing document, the code has failed. It failed to keep the mechanics and formal process behind the scenes where they belong, in roles supporting rather than suppressing open discourse. It failed to allow students the maximum choice in their future leaders. Most importantly, it failed to maintain the integrity of the election and damaged the very legitimacy it was supposed to confer on Student Government. The entire organization has suffered as a result.

It is imperative that the code be revised again. However, it is equally important that SG not be the group to do it. An impartial body, entirely independent of SG, should be assembled to salvage what remains of its institutional integrity. Confidence in the organization begins with confidence that its leaders are legitimately elected.