Free and fair elections are the watchwords of democracy – so are openness, competition and due process. The actions of the Office of Student Life during last week’s Students’ Association elections, however, demonstrated a careless disregard for these principles upon which SA operates.
An election, by definition, is the selection of a person for office by vote. More simply, it is the right or ability to make a choice – a choice extended to the entire student body once a year as we select those students we wish to represent us to the administration.
About 600 students voted Wednesday and Thursday; unfortunately, about 600 votes were invalidated when presidential candidate Tony Godfrey dropped out of the race 10 minutes before the polls closed. In an e-mail to the student body, Godfrey said he had been deemed unfit to assume an executive office.
Set aside for the moment any discussion of the candidate’s ability or inability to assume office. The candidate is immaterial; in contrast, the process by which he or she is chosen should be above reproach.
According to Godfrey, Dr. Jean-Noel Thompson and Dr. Jeff Arrington – who declined to comment because of the personal nature of the matter – requested Godfrey withdraw his name from the ballot Thursday, just hours before the end of the election. The word request, however, implies one can choose to opt-out. In this case, Student Life gave the candidate two options: withdraw or be declared ineligible.
Regardless of a candidate’s track record, he or she has the right to due process under the constitution and bylaws of SA before being removed from office. The entire investigation, if it can be called such, took fewer than 24 hours. Any grievance significant enough to justify withdrawal from the race should surely warrant a thorough study, as well as the input of the Congress, neither of which was present in this situation.
By forcefully removing one of only two presidential candidates – in the middle of the election, no less, when it was impossible for students to respond – Student Life effectively declared the democratic process null and void. An election with one candidate and incomplete polling results is no election at all. It demonstrates a lack of respect for the student body’s intelligence and for Students’ Association.
By interfering with SA’s operation – now for two years in a row – Student Life has threatened to delegitimize the organization as an independent student body, instead setting it up as an arm of the administration whose leaders can be appointed or removed at will. This is a dangerous precedent, and one students should not ignore.
Student Life leaders could have saved face by simply waiting until the polls closed and the election was decided in Palomares’ favor. Instead, they took the election into their own hands, corrupting the values they set out to uphold. Perhaps next year, the university could save time and effort by skipping elections and just taking applications instead.