Opinion | Staff Editorials

CCSC election process for executive board is flawed

Last week, we put forward a simple argument—more people running for student council helps to ensure that elections are valuable, by generating more debate and testing ideas and candidates before the student body.

Events in the past week have demonstrated that the barrier to increased student participation in council elections is a structural issue. Ben Kornick suddenly resigned from Columbia College Student Council this week, explaining his decision in a letter sent to the council that was subsequently leaked. What we find most alarming about his resignation is not that he wasn’t chosen by prospective executive board parties, but that this makes him ineligible to be a candidate for vice president for campus life—a position he wanted to run for this year. Regardless of Kornick’s qualifications, it is evident that his resignation highlights larger problems with CCSC, and in particular the executive board’s election process. 

In last week’s editorial, we praised the Columbia Elections Board’s mixer—an event intended to promote undergraduate student council elections and encourage prospective candidates to run. After the editorial was published, though, we learned that the Elections Board asked all non-graduating members of CCSC and the Engineering Student Council not to attend.

The current election process discourages students from running for positions on the executive board of CCSC. To run for the executive board, students must be in a party with four other people. By insulating individuals within a group, the current structure hinders competition in the election process and allows candidates to win office solely on their party’s coattails rather than their individual experience and merits.

The current system makes it extremely difficult for interested students to run for executive board from outside of the CCSC circle, and heavily skews the pool of candidates toward insiders. Incumbent members of CCSC are already engaged in politicking well before the official election period and are much more likely to find a group of four other people committed to running. Moreover, as we saw in 2012, the current system pits parties stacked with experience, such as 212, against those that are inexperienced, such as Block Party. This structural weakness is especially worrisome in light of the changes to the prospective candidate mixer. Removing current members from these mixers also makes it difficult for new candidates to find a party, helping to protect incumbent candidates.

There is a fairly simple solution to this problem and a model to work off of on campus: adopting the same system that ESC uses to select its executive board. Candidates can run as members of a party, but students vote separately in each individual race instead of voting for an entire party. Voters are able to pick and choose candidates from multiple parties and split their votes along a ballot. Under this system, a “party” can consist of as few as one person. This would not be novel for CCSC—class councils already follow this system outside of the races for president and vice president. Why would we want to elect someone unable to work with others? There is no evidence that having a single-party executive board is an improvement over a council where each candidate has won office on his or her own merits. A multiparty executive board can be just as united, and produce better ideas by virtue of its differences.

Our student government can thrive when more people have the opportunity to run for office and engage in the political process. A simple change to the structure of the election process can make that happen. We should be able to vote for CCSC’s executive board on a position-by-position basis, not just along party lines. We should choose our representatives on the basis of who is most qualified and has the best ideas—not on who picked the best team to run with.

Emma Finder recused herself from the writing of this editorial because of her friendship with Ben Kornick.

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To respond to this staff editorial, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com


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Alexander Donnelly posted on

I dont know if I can agree with this 100%. I have not had any council experience, but with just a quick email to Daphne last Spring, I was being considered for VP of finance and interviewing her leadership team. It takes ambition to serve on student council, about as much ambition as it takes to write someone an email and tell them you are interested in the position.

I'm not saying the process is without its flaws - the elections board can never make up its mind whether it is going to do a first-past-the-post or total votes system - but I am trying to offer that student council many not be as exclusive as first meets the eye.

If you really want to increase competition, focus on reforming the arcane rules that govern campaigning. Getting urgent emails at 3am that your team may be using the wrong tape for your posters (and thereby suffer a 10% reduction in your funds) does more to discourage candidates than does a party system.

yes posted on

This had to be said. I dont understand why we have the executive party system at all, since it seems like it just allows current council members to remain in council.

CCSC member posted on

Speaking for myself, I agree with the overall spirit of this article, that more people would run if the positions were elected separately, but there are definitely inaccuracies in some of the reasoning. The comment about Ben Kornick being "ineligible to be a candidate for vice president for campus life—a position he wanted to run for this year," is just wrong. Just cause he wasn't selected as vp campus life by one of the two existing parties, that doesn't mean that he couldn't be picked up by another party, or that he couldn't form is own party.

In regards to why non-senior CCSC members couldn't attend the most recent elections mixer, that was because the elections board felt that this would make it easier for non-CCSC people to get the information that they needed. Being in a room with a bunch of people who are already elected can be a bit intimidating if you're trying to get in (I was there once) and their absence would make it easier to ask the elections board questions. Note that an election mixer earlier in the year was open to everyone.

As a member of CCSC, I'm glad that campus news is taking notice of our processes and offering suggestions for improvement. However, I'd encourage the editorial board (just as they often encourage the subjects of these types of articles) to do some fact-checking so as not to give misinformation and add to any confusion that people may have.

reply posted on

"Just cause he wasn't selected as vp campus life by one of the two existing parties, that doesn't mean that he couldn't be picked up by another party, or that he couldn't form is own party."
ok that's exactly what the editorial is talking about. why does he need a party to run in the first place?

CCSC Member posted on

Ok, I get what you're saying. I think the point of having a party is that all the vps should be working together and supporting each other. In order to do that, they should come up with a cohesive vision that each vp's committee will support in some way. If you run by yourself, you have a vision for just campus life, but not for how CCSC will operate on the whole, and this may be a problem.

ESC member posted on

I understand that there have been discussions about prospective candidates being intimidated by incumbency. However, when I attended my first mixer, I took advantage of the presence of council members to learn more about how council works (it isn't entirely well known unless you attend meetings) and to get my name out there in the council community.

Additionally, the purpose of the mixers is not to ask the elections board questions, since they don't serve on council. Rather, the purpose of the mixers is to encourage a broad discussion among council members and prospective candidates about current campus issues. Many people even use the mixers to form a party or learn more about their potential opposition; there aren't any other such areas for such activities.

I applaud the elections board in their efforts thusfar to create more streamlined elections processes, but the over-generalized opinion that incumbency should merely be frowned upon and shoved aside in favor of increasing the size of the candidate pool needs to be looked at further - I think there are many more benefits than have been brought up in recent articles and discussions.

SGA posted on

Or you can consider SGA's structure where all candidates run individually, allowing for students to vote for the best candidate in each category (VP Finance, VP Campus Life, etc.) The chosen "e-board" then learns to work together, guaranteeing every student the opportunity to run for any position in SGA.

Anonymous posted on

lol no