Grant Union candidates more public exposure
As the 2010 American election season comes upon us, I am reminded of the tremendous candidate overexposure that has become a hallmark of the electoral process in this country. Election cycles in the United States last well over a year, and not a stone is left unturned after the pre-election candidate-vetting process in the media. As ridiculous as this kind of overexposure can get, it speaks a great deal about our electoral process that citizens really get a chance to know candidates before an election. Thank God that what we complain about in America is that we know our candidates too well.Brandeis politics is a completely different story. I have often heard students complain about the lack of transparency in the Union, and the Union elections were no different.
With the exception of a few posters strewn about campus, each carrying virtually identical platitudes about why I should cast my vote for this or that candidate, there was little information about the candidates readily available.
The candidates for the Student Union's Executive and Finance Boards got virtually no exposure to the student body in the time before the election.
There were no organized debates or town hall-style meetings with all the candidates for Union President or any other office. No e-mails were sent out to the student body with the platforms of any of the candidates.
Truth be told, when I went online to vote in the elections, I was shocked at how many people there were running whose names I had never seen before. While the Justice did publish an article with quotes from interviews with the presidential candidates on the day of the election (Union polls open for elections, April 13), no complete interviews of each candidate were even published prior to election day. No in-depth interviews were conducted with campus radio or television stations either. This lack of exposure is at least in part due to that fact that, according the Union's bylaws, candidates need only be given five days to campaign prior to balloting.
In terms of getting the names and ideas of the many candidates for the Union's Executive Board, the onus in Union elections is placed entirely on the candidates themselves. It is certainly true that in any election, be it for president of the United States or president of the Brandeis Student Union, the candidates for any office will be largely responsible for getting their names out to the electorate.
However, more institutionalized methods of achieving candidate exposure are necessary on college campuses. All the candidates for office have busy class schedules, and they have to balance academics, social lives and their campaigns.
Furthermore, Facebook groups and websites can't ensure adequate exposure the way campus newspapers and debates could. To expect every candidate to have the time and resources to put him or herself out there in a meaningful way is simply unrealistic.
The result of this lack of formal mechanisms for candidate exposure to the student body is that election results can become skewed. The candidates are simply never put on a level playing field. If there were a town hall meeting held with all the candidates for, at the very least, Union president and vice president, then any student who wished to be informed would be able to hear the ideas of every candidate and pose questions to each of them. If the election season were made longer and campus newspapers were to publish full interviews with each of the candidates for Union president, a large portion of the student body would be informed about who was running and what each of them stood for. That is the kind of vetting of candidates that ought to go on before we the students choose who will represent us to the administration for the next academic year.
Instead, what happens in Union elections is that people are only aware of the candidates who take the time to go dorm-or dining hall- storming.
By the time students get to the polls, they will likely vote for one of the few candidates whose faces they recognize or who introduced himself in person rather than the candidate who shares their visions for the University. At worst, people simply vote for their friends because they already know who they are.
I am not the only one who feels that I did not get adequate exposure to the candidates for the Union e-board. In an interview with the Justice regarding whether he felt he had adequate exposure to the student body in the time before the election, former Union presidential candidate Sahar Massachi '11 responded with a resounding, "Not at all." Nipun Marwaha '12, a candidate for Junior Representative to the Board of Trustees, who got to know the student body by dormstorming and personally passing out fliers around the campus, expressed similar sentiments in a separate interview with the Justice.
All this being said, the strongest reason to have more transparency and exposure of candidates throughout the election process is that, as I alluded to earlier, students don't know which projects the Union is pursuing or what the roles of each member of the e-board are. And we can't demand openness from the Union if there was no openness from the people we elected to the Union during the election cycle.
The University has always prided itself on being an activist campus. Through protests and activism, its students have taken part in the democratic process of the country at large.
There is no reason why such a student body shouldn't be able to take part in the democratic process at our own university. But that can only happen if the Union elections are carried out in a more transparent manner and the candidates are given more exposure.
I will close with the words of Matt Kriegsman '11, one of the candidates who ran for Union president, in an interview with the Justice after the election.
He said, "Considering that our campus is small, we ought to make something like a campaign election accessible to all students. That could ideally include some type of town hall or debate style setting where all of our views could be articulated to the Brandeis students. There is no reason why that type of informative questioning should only remain to the editorial staff of the Justice or of The Hoot. Think about it; that type of transparency is truly Brandeis."
These words capture the gist of my argument very well. For they show that candidates are willing to receive greater exposure, and that we just need to afford them the chance.