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.
To respond to this staff editorial, or to submit an op-ed, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.