Candidates want election reform

By Michael McFall

Candidates in this year’s student government election say the campaign process needs to change to get more students involved and allow them to make better-informed decisions.

Presidential candidates from both parties said elections need less focus on marketing and more time for candidates to talk to students.

Candidates from the two parties think individual members of the Associated Students of the University of Utah should announce endorsements for who they think would best handle the job.

“They’re aware of what’s going on and they know the people running,” said McCaye Badger, Spork’s senior class presidential candidate.

Patrick Reimherr, Focus’ presidential candidate, agrees.

“No one knows (ASUU) like they do,” he said.

Members of ASUU should be invested and take a personal stake in who’s going to lead the organization, especially because its level of involvement lends itself to a very informed decision, said Jon Hayes, Focus’ vice presidential candidate. They’re students, too, he said.

The shift would be a sharp contrast to past administrations, which have always held a neutral position in student government elections.

Spencer Pearson, president of ASUU, said he doesn’t think members of the student government should be involved in the election or make endorsements.

It would disrupt and potentially create problems for the current administration and the work it’s still doing, he said, as well as create conflicts of interest.

Candidates said they would also like to see the campaign process extended to give students more exposure to the parties. This would allow them to make more informed decisions and have more time to talk about elections and get more people out to the polls, they said. On average, only 12 percent of the student body voted in the past few elections.

“They limit a lot of things, so everything comes down to what you can throw at students in two weeks, three weeks,” Reimherr said.

Pearson said he worries that a longer election process is a bad idea because it would take that much more time away from academics-which should be any candidate’s first priority.

The two or three debates candidates have in a normal election are good, but the election needs more of them, said Graham Anderson, Spork’s presidential candidate. He said the parties should have time for as many as 15 to 20 discussions with students.

Those discussions should be able to take place even before the active campaigning begins, Reimherr said. This year, Dave Martini, the ASUU elections registrar, reinstated an old rule that forbids candidates from talking to students until two to three weeks before the election.

Giving candidates such a limited time frame to speak with students makes it hard to defeat the image that ASUU is an exclusive club, Reimherr said. Having only a handful of venues to speak with students forces candidates to focus more energy and time on groundwork and marketing, and such tactics do nothing to elevate the election above a popularity or advertising contest, he said.

The constant excuse ASUU gives for not increasing the number of debates is that attendance is too low for the ones they have, Anderson said. The low attendance is the reason why there should be more debates, because the more discussions that can happen, the more students will be exposed to the election.

Dhiraj Chand, director of ASUU’s Diversity Board, expressed interest in holding more meetings with candidates to discuss diversity issues, which he said are mostly left unaddressed by ASUU administrations

An elections registrar should be appointed earlier to ensure that elections reform has time to take place, Hayes said.

The registrar is typically appointed in November and is expected to produce a packet with elections rules and guidelines by January. Registrars should begin earlier and organize events to inform students about the upcoming election and how to be involved, he said.

For Anderson, it’s no surprise that there hasn’t been much of an effort to reform the elections process.

“People talk about it every year, but the party that always wins is the party that plays the system the best, so they get into office,” he said. “Why would they want to change anything?”

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