On March 21, the South Asia Student Association (SASA) issued an apology to candidate for SG Secretary Eric Reath. Earlier that week, SASA had made formal endorsements to candidates running for SG that the club had decided would serve the best interests of SASA. There was a complaint filed that SASA did not follow the proper course of action to endorse SG candidates, and the Board of Elections decided to revoke SASA’s ability to be a part of this year’s elections.
What exactly did SASA do, according to the Board of Elections? In order to endorse candidates for SG, there is a regulation that any club who wishes to voice their opinion must take the responsibility of reaching out to every single candidate on the ballot. SASA President Ritanch Hans mistakenly missed a candidate in an e-mail to the candidates, and SASA was therefore prohibited from voicing a formal opinion in SG politics. As the SASA executive board pointed out in their apology: “When you have to copy and paste 50 e-mails, you accidentally miss one. It happens.”
The Board of Elections procedure for endorsement is absolutely nonsensical. The very idea that a student club or organization does not have the right to freely express their opinion without oversight is blatantly unfair censorship. If a student club wishes to endorse a candidate, they should be able to do so without the burden of reaching out to every candidate.
Compare this to endorsements in real elections where any group is able to endorse whomever they choose, regardless of whether they reach out to other candidates. Why does an organization need to reach out to a candidate they know they will not support? This is a waste of everyone’s time.
More importantly, the Board of Elections shouldn’t have the power to decide what is fair and unfair speech. The assumption is that this rule was created to make candidates feel better about themselves. However, it is the responsibility of the candidates to reach out to the student clubs and organizations to garner support — that’s what campaigning is.
But the infringements on free speech don’t stop there. You will remember that candidate Jessica Darmawan was sanctioned for sending out e-mails without going through the Election Board’s regulated process. This is an even more blatant abuse of free speech. Pre-publication censorship (which is what this process amounts to) allows the Election Board to control who candidates reach out to and even what their campaign materials say. I ask you, how is this a fair process for candidates? The idea behind it is to give every candidate equal chances. But this is ridiculous, because it assumes candidates don’t have equal ability to draft up an e-mail and send it to the organizations they’d like to be endorsed by. Personally I think anyone running for an SG position can handle drafting an e-mail without the Board of Elections babysitting them.
This sort of over-regulation not only dampens political participation, it makes a mockery of AU. If we want to claim fair and open elections, let’s have fair and open elections. It’s time for AU’s election regulations to change and in order for that to happen, students need to speak out about the abuses of this system. If you’re interested in making this opinion heard, Elections Board meetings are Sundays at 12:30 p.m. in MGC 262 and open to the public. You can also contact them on the AUSG website.
AU Students for Liberty