The Wesleyan Argus
February 1, 2011
Last year’s bid for WSA President was a thrilling race to watch, yet the controversial campaigning tactics employed during the election are, at the very least, a cause for concern. Even looking past the intensely negative campaigns and adversarial attacks that appeared on Wesleying, in our e-mail inboxes, and at the presidential debate, what was extremely problematic was that it highlighted how easily inequalities can arise during campaigning.
This imbalance is not an issue confined to the candidates of last year’s election. It is a systemic problem, one that must be addressed by leveling the playing field so that that everyone has an equal opportunity to vie for our attention. The recent call for WSA Campaign Finance Reform begins to address the problem of equal funding, but some other problems still remain.
First, campaign spending requires more transparency, so that students can determine an appropriate cap for future candidates. The $200 figure proposed by Democracy Matters was chosen arbitrarily and is not based on past expenditures or actual calculations of necessary costs. Both the winners and losers of past campaigns should be involved in such an inquiry, but so should the student body. Last year, many expressed frustration with the excessiveness of certain campaigns, indicating that some past purchases may not have been necessary to convince students to simply vote.
If we are able to consider what campaigns have cost in the past and should cost in the future, perhaps we could lessen the amount of funding we would allot to a student campaign. After all, money spent on T-shirts plastered with a candidates’ name might be better spent in other areas of student life.
Second, current WSA members should not exploit their resources to broadcast campaign agenda. All-campus e-mails should be used to update us on campus events and encourage us to vote, not further the agenda of one or two candidates at the expense of others. This, too, is a resource issue—if not every candidate is a WSA member at the time, not every candidate will have access to such a far-reaching mode of communication.
Finally, it is important that the election process centers on the WSA’s constituents, not the personalities of various candidates. The negative campaigns of 2010 may have helped to bring about the highest turnout in Wesleyan’s history, but it also caused many to become disillusioned about a process they didn’t care about to begin with. Now that WSA elections have grabbed such attention, candidates should stick to the issues at hand, and refrain from petty attacks on each other’s character.
We recognize that the success of past victors is due, in no small part, to their own dedication to winning an election. Several of the tactics employed last year—going door-to-door, talking with students about the issues—not only increased student engagement in the election, but also cost the student body nothing. These tactics are far from out-dated, and in fact seem more reflective of the type of candidate that our student body should endorse—one who is committed to our community and enhancing our college experience, rather than taking money away from expenditures that could enhance both.
As we move toward another WSA election, we must take this opportunity to build from the mistakes of past years. Whether or not we go back to the basics of dorm room posters ($25) and heated debates over each candidate’s competence (priceless), we need to ensure a fair system for all.