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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Editorial: Union election errors expose constitution confusion

Published: November 2, 2012
Section: Editorials

As Brandeis’ community newspaper, we dutifully report the results of each Student Union election—no matter how many times a week we have to do so.

The duties of the Union itself are what demand attention today. Last week the student body bore witness to yet another election debacle. The key function of student government must surely be to act as representation of the population at large, but the current student administration cannot reliably or efficiently find out who has been elected to act.

Voting integrity

The BigPulse company that to some extent provides us with our voting system is clunky, and about as-far-as can be from user-friendly. The “I forgot my password” login, wherein students have to pretend to receive an error message and then multiple emails, may have started as a minor annoyance. But its repeated existence is now just a symbol of larger Union ineptitude.

More than 50 first-year students complained last week that they could not vote in the elections. And The Hoot received word from several recently graduated students that they not only received the email, but cast votes in Thursday’s election.

The Union responded to these errors by having a revote Friday afternoon. But this presents its own problems, as those who were able to win successfully the first day may have lost votes they had already won by Friday. Recent elections, of course, have had abysmal turnout percentages, and students certainly did not vote in the numbers on Friday that they did in the disqualified Thursday round.

Union President Todd Kirkland ’13 said to The Hoot that Secretary Carlton Shakes ’14 had mistakenly used a prior year’s security list of would-be eligible voters for the system. When BigPulse got the list, it sent out vote emails to scores of ineligible voters and completely missed some first-years that should have been included.

Shakes failed in his primary responsibility as chief elections officer (other than sending out weekly email blasts). With a computerized voting system like BigPulse, sending it the correct list of voters is just about the only thing Shakes was elected to do by his peers. We cannot help but wonder what Shakes thought the job of chief of elections entailed if it did not include providing the list of voters.

Unconstitutional special elections

Finally, and most worrisomely, the Union continues to compound its flaws with what The Hoot believes to be unconstitutional fix-its. We are speaking of the constant new elections the Union has been calling for during the last year whenever the “Abstain” option wins an election.

The Constitution states that “Abstain shall be an option on all union ballots,” and “if abstain receives the greatest number of votes during a final election, then there will be a vacancy in the office until the next election, except in the case of the President, in which new elections will be held five academic days later.”

The Union’s use of snap special elections to fill any seat wherein abstain is the victor violates the founding document. By explicitly specifying “except in the case of the President,” the Constitution forbids calling a snap election just to get around its demand that abstain be allowed to win. The Constitution is allowed to grant exceptions to its own commands: the Union president and secretary are not.

The Union has previously told The Hoot that they believe they are fulfilling the Constitution’s demand that abstain hold the seat until the “next election”—by just making the “next election” earlier than called for, by executive order. But the Constitution’s respect for a winning abstain is explicitly waived only in the case of the president, which logically ensures that that office, at the very least, will always be filled with a real candidate.

The logic of the Union would allow the secretary to call a new election absolutely, whenever he or she saw fit—the Constitution, except in the crucial case of the president, treats abstain exactly like any other candidate. Just as abstain is to hold the seat until the next election, so too does any candidate. So this line of reasoning would allow the Union to call a new election whenever anyone won whom it didn’t like, letting him/her keep the seat for about a day.

If Joey First-year won a race to be treasurer, the Constitution would guarantee him the seat “until the next election,” just as it promises to abstain. Just as Kirkland and Shakes would never just call “the next election” to circumvent a winning student, they cannot choose when the next election will be held as they like, just because it was won by abstain.

The Union has severe, systemic problems, and what is worse, they are being made worse by disobedience on the part of the personalities that are currently in office. Not only did Shakes and others prove incompetent last week, but they are attempting to correct their mistakes and the embarrassingly high number of votes for abstain with unconstitutional do-overs. Brandeis undergraduates deserve better.