There has been a noticeable lack of campaign advertisements on display around campus for next Tuesday and Wednesday’s Associated Students election. I’ve seen ads for the election itself, where to go, how to vote, etc. But I haven’t seen any campaign ads for specific slates of candidates looking for my vote, which is a bit unusual, not to mention fantastic.
Officially recognized A.S. slates represent everything I dislike about A.S, and even though next week’s election has seen a drastic reduction in the emphasis being placed on the importance of publicized slates, the election of president, vice president, and 13 A.S. senators is still compromised by the mere notion of them.
A.S. slates form out of what slate members define as a common vision of how A.S. should operate through their work together in A.S. during the previous academic year. The slates are usually given very progressive names, such as “We the People” or “Students for Freedom,” led by two high-profile A.S. members, and filled with a hodgepodge of former A.S. senators, directors, and first-time A.S. hopefuls.
Since these slates often have their origins in a group of very determined students who share that “common vision” of how A.S. should operate, it would seem on the surface that the existence of slates is a natural and healthy piece of A.S. politics. But it’s really quite the opposite.
So many of the under-the-radar complications in A.S., the most public being the release of a highly controversial letter on March 15, have to do with divisions that have developed within this year’s A.S. senate. The writing of the letter, which looked to paint A.S. vice presidential nominee Diana Medina in an intensely negative light in order to garner support for a nomination-ending mass of abstentions, and the ways in which the letter was distributed to specific members of the Senate, points to a very spacious divide between our student representatives.
The letter’s author, kept secret by those in the senate who first received the letter further alludes to the secret alliances creeping into our A.S. voting body. This issue has become relevant enough to necessitate it being spoken about openly during Tuesday’s candidate debate and press conference.
Divisions and alliances are by no means unique to this year’s group. During my freshman year, three slates competed for control of the senate in the spring elections. It was an exceptionally heated election cycle, led by soon-to-be-president Nancy Landa’s “Education First” slate and exiting president Josh Lodolo’s “United Students of Action” slate. Accusations were made in both directions over election misconduct, painting the “Education First” slate as a bunch of tattle-tails and the “U.S.A.” slate as a pack of corrupt do-anything-to-win campaigners. At the end of the day, three things happened. The third slate had been forgotten, the reason why the slates even existed was long forgotten, and members of A.S. appeared more divided than ever. Bravo.
Last year was a little better, and I’m thankful a more moderate, less protest-happy slate won. But because that happened, the stage was set for another divisive year of A.S. voting and funding that has been described to me publicly and privately as severely alliance-based and a lot more disagreeable than it should be. Alisandra Vasquez, a senatorial candidate on a slate this year, said she considers this semester’s divisions as bad as last year’s group.
This is interesting because the people of A.S. are not any different or more naturally divisive than any normal student. They’re all doing the best they can with what they’re given, just like the rest of us, and to see my overwhelmingly good and deeply involved peers forced into a situation where slates and pre-assigned alliances are the only way to gain power is quite sad, and I’d hope that people would prefer another way.
The truth is that the rise of the slate system in A.S. elections doesn’t necessarily need to be the natural evolution of student government. Pre-term alliances do not need to be formed like they do in “real” government. Obviously, a president/vice-president cannot be elected without a slate the way things are now, but that’s just because that’s the way things are now. With change comes change.
Besides the construction of pre-term alliances, there is another more tangible reason why slates are bad news.
In Spring 2003, only 2,800 students voted in A.S.’ spring elections, many of them reacting to personal appeals made by candidates. But what happens after Joe or Jane Voter finds the one name on the ballot that he or she recognizes? An across-the-board checking off of all names on the same slate as that first person. How is that an honest representation of how students want our student government to act? That selection is cursory, at best.
The formation of political parties in national government is much more a natural evolution, mainly because national government deals with public policy and law in a way that A.S. simply does not. A.S. is primarily a programming organization, which its members do quite well, and despite the occasional resolution, A.S. doesn’t dabble too much in student advocacy and policy, especially this year.
In Congress, there is a much more noticeable disconnect between representative and constituent, which lends itself more appropriately to the formation of political party alliances. But in A.S., the line is much blurrier between representing your constituents and representing yourself.
I’m not na?ve enough to think that people, even students, don’t disagree passionately over the ways to spend the multi-million dollar budget A.S. has at its ready. Disagreement and conflict are essential to good government, but forming pre-term alliances and slates is not the only way to go about it. Doing that starts the senate off on an already-divided note, and where can senators go from there?
Many A.S. members have spoken about the need to rebuild relationships and start to close the divide between A.S., student organizations, and even between A.S.’ own voting members. A good way to start would be to no longer allow the formation of slates, and I think that given the chance, many of the candidates themselves would agree.