With the amount of attention this election cycle has received recently, it seemed like a prudent idea to jump on the bandwagon and look into it myself. Although the platforms of the candidates, especially in the race for Undergraduate Student Government president, have been thoroughly examined (and which, to my chagrin, can be largely summed up with a few choice two-worders like “waffle fries,” “ripe fruit” and “bike reform”), very little light has been shed on the infractions that each candidate committed during the course of the campaign period. An email sent out by current USG president Shawon Jackson ’15 on Nov. 26actually contained a link to the penalty points incurred by each candidate thus far – not surprising, only four of 28 candidates actually lost points, and none of the violations exceeded 10 points.
But these numbers were, by themselves, relatively meaningless. So, at the suggestion of a friend, I looked at the USG Elections Handbook. As stated in section nine, candidates are allowed 19 free points before punitive sanctions are enacted. After racking up between 20 and 30 points, candidates lose the privilege to use “electronic campaigning messages,” and between 30 and 40 points, candidates can’t campaign online altogether, with the exception of their website. Between 40 and 50 points, candidates lose their right to have a website, and at 50 points a candidate is disqualified from the race outright.
When asked, elections manager Amara Nnaeto ’17 stated that these policies have been in place since before her time (and, apparently, since before the time of anyone currently in the USG senate). As such, the rationale behind these policies is left up to personal interpretation. Ostensibly, they were intended to allow candidates wiggle room in the event of genuinely accidental mishaps that could occur during the lengthy campaigning process.
At the same time, they seem to encourage knowledgeable, premeditated violations of the rules. If candidates are allowed 20 “grace points,” they can easily “accidentally” plaster up 9 posters in the predefined prohibited areas, incur the 18 penalty points (2 points per poster), yet still face no real action from the elections oversight manager. Given that over 85 percent of the candidates were able to get through the campaigning period without violating a single rule, and thus managed to stay at zero points throughout, it certainly seems doable.
Understandably, the candidates, being honorable Princetonians, would probably try their best to avoid acting so calculating simply out of personal integrity (seeing as they probably didn’t have to sign the Honor Code before the election began). But, in the off chance that a candidate accrues enough points, the penalties seem oddly misaligned. For instance, no matter how candidates may rack up their first 20 points, they will lose the right to utilize electronic messages, such as email and Facebook messages. If, hypothetically, candidates covered up four or more of their competitors’ posters, incurring 5 points along the way with each instance, the penalty that results would have nothing to do with the type of infraction that candidate violated.
Given this situation, it seems high time for USG to implement a systemic elections-process overhaul. The candidate races — especially the heated presidential contest — have shed light on the issues that the student body deems important (or not), but to make the elections process itself more efficient, fluid and effective, it might behoove USG to begin changing its approach. First and foremost, instead of a penalty system that basically encourages violations to a defined threshold, all student participants should be held accountable for knowing the entirety of the expectations held of them as legitimate candidates who have perused the Elections Handbook in its entirety. Moreover, infractions should not be penalized by a points system; instead, the USG elections manager should have greater discretion to discipline candidates in a per-case basis, which would ensure that the punishments that are delivered actually reflect the infraction.
The candidates, their speeches and their platforms are undeniably the highlight of the election period. However, it is important to remain cognizant of the fact that, behind any good election is a framework driven by seemingly inconsequential logistics. However, it is this system of rules that ensures all candidates an equal opportunity to campaign. When there are archaic policies with ambiguous rationale that have been implemented since before anyone on the current leadership can recall, a reorganization is in order.
Jason Choe is a sophomorefrom Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.