In the past, the Daily Athenaeum has endorsed candidates in the WVU Student Government Association election.
This election, we will not be making an endorsement.
The lack of endorsement has nothing to do with incompetence from any of the candidates. Each ticket – Connect, Focus and Realist – has potential to better the University with its ideas, experience and character.
Unfortunately, due to current election rules, students are not given enough time to evaluate the candidates and make an informed decision. Some people may consider this a good reason for an editorial endorsement, as the DA follows SGA closely and has more insight on its operations and members than the average student. However, this year that insight has shown us the need to use our platform to advocate for an election system that gives voters sufficient time to form their own opinions.
Earlier this semester, the allotted time for active campaigning was shortened from five days to four. Active campaigning began for the candidates when the clock struck midnight early Sunday morning. Voting began at 9 a.m. Tuesday morning. This gave candidates only 57 hours to discuss their platform with students and the press before polling locations opened.
This is not enough time.
Yet, such time restraints weren’t always in place. The 2014 Elections Code said active campaigning should not exceed 12 academic days. The current code says active campaigning should not exceed six days.
Active campaigning aside, there are other factors that limit voter knowledge of the candidates.
Before active campaigning, the Elections Committee recommended “that potential candidates only refer to themselves and their individual personal beliefs when asked about platforms/goals before the active campaigning start date,” according to a document on the SGA website from Attorney General Miguel Fortney-Henriquez.
So, when a potential candidate asks students for signatures so they can become official candidates, the Elections Committee prohibits references to a platform, which is an important part of any candidacy.
“During the signature process, candidates were advised not to talk about platforms as they related to the entire team, but were encouraged to talk about their individual passions and things they wanted to work on,” wrote Elections Chair Steven Treadway in a Feb. 27 email.
Instead, the document from the attorney general provides this example as to how potential candidates should respond when asked about their platform:
Potential Candidate: “I do not subscribe to any platform at this point, but personally wish to hold SGA executives accountable in the future.”
In January, Treadway, in an email crafted by the attorney general, even asked the DA to remove social media posts with an article discussing some of the potential candidates due to an investigation into “potential violations of the Elections Code.”
In the article that the Elections Committee asked to be removed from social media, the two potential presidential candidates, Jay Zaleski and Mikalaa Martin, each made several basic statements. If potential candidates can’t be written about, especially in a way as broad as this, before the election, students know really nothing about the candidates until the week of the election.
Such restrictions on information keep voters largely in the dark about who will be representing them in student government until active campaigning begins. Students, who are busy with homework, studying, work and a social life, then are given only 57 hours to decipher the platforms before the polling locations first open.
Initially, Treadway said the Elections Committee would not be releasing the official candidate names until active campaigning began. On Friday, there was a mandatory candidates meeting; candidates weren’t official until after the meeting. Active campaigning did not begin until Sunday at midnight.
“Yeah this is based on how things have been run in the past & with the intent of protecting all cands. from sticky violation predicaments that could come with releasing names early,” Treadway wrote in a Feb. 27 tweet.
This tweet is concerning. If the Elections Committee cannot trust the candidates to follow election rules, how can students trust them to follow rules once they are in office? Or is it a matter of vagueness in election law? If this is the case, the rules should be made more clear, ensuring that candidates have more success in following them.
Ultimately, the Elections Committee ended up releasing the names before active campaigning began. Nevertheless, this consideration of not releasing official candidate names further exposes problems with the election process.
The limited information allowed to circulate about the potential and later official candidates, combined with the shortened active campaigning period, encourages a system where the most socially popular candidate is bound for victory. When students aren’t given enough time to analyze the merits and plans of all the candidates, they vote for the name they know.
Once again, this editorial is not a knock on the candidates this year. All tickets are more than qualified and have each presented ideas that would be beneficial to campus. But an election system that stymies the flow of information to the electorate is not one that should be encouraged and not one that should exist.