Now is the time for change. When the thrill of victory is still in the heart. When the sting of defeat is still weighing down the soul. When the residue from those damn fliers is still on the walls. Now is the time for change in the Rice electoral system.
What, you might ask, is wrong? The Rice student body votes in a number of races they don't care about, campaigning is out of hand and the preferential balloting system has some flaws.
Whom We Vote For
In much the same way as American voters react to the long list of judicial candidates at election time, Rice students just skim over the names of the candidates running for many offices and quickly move to the next page. It only makes sense that the Rice student body vote on some officers in the blanket tax organizations, but why is it that we are voting for Rice Student Volunteer Program secretary? While the position is no less important than any other position at Rice, students just don't care. After witnessing the ballot-counting process, there is not only a significant drop in ballots cast between the Student Association president race and the RSVP races (1,362 to 975 this year), but the pattern of voting quickly becomes a one vote for the first candidate and a two vote for the second and so on.
Neither the RSVP nor the RPC are political organizations, and for this reason, students should elect the chair and president of these respective organizations only. This would fall into line with the slow reform process that has occurred over time with the Thresher and Campanile . Since 1989, students have not voted on the business managers for these organizations. A SA ballot should thus include SA president, SA internal vice president, SA external vice president, RPC president, RSVP chair, Thresher editor and Campanile editor. This would allow the organizations to have a more cohesive set of officers, most of whom would be appointed, while keeping a level of accountability to the students.
Campaigning has become ineffective because of the current system. There are too many fliers which do little to actually sway the voter either way. The posters lack content. E-mail campaigning is a horrid prospect, but Web pages are a nice, free way to get to the student body, at least in the future. The $25 limit on campaign expenses only fosters this plethora of paper garbage, while not really being enforceable (after all, deals can be struck at copy centers, receipts can be faked or receipts can just be thrown away). Signs are frequently hung in illegal places because of the sheer number out there. How could you solve all these problems? Simple. Instead of limiting the money spent, limit the number of fliers you can put up. Say each candidate gets five fliers at each college. Maybe this would produce more thoughtful fliers and weed out the people who are running only because they think they are popular and can sway the electorate with lots of neat fliers. The limit and an established posting area would also put an end to the tearing down of fliers. E-mail campaigning should be banned outright.
How We Vote
Last but not least, the preferential balloting system has some holes. It may be time to imitate the United States elections in a plurality, winner-takes-all system. Yes, run-offs would be a problem, but a winner-takes-all system eliminates weird happenings like in the 1994 elections where Michol McMillian lost to Kelly Dorman in the RPC external vice president race. McMillian had 40 more first-place votes than Dorman, but she lost the election by 26 votes after redistribution, a process where the ballots for the candidate with the least number-one votes get redistributed to the other candidates based on whom the voter put down as the number-two candidate.
In the end, Rice organizations would be more cohesive, and students wouldn't have to deal with annoying fliers everywhere. Everyone wins.
This item appeared in the Opinion section of the March 1, 1996 issue.
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