For the first time in several years, the Undergraduate Students Association Council has appointed an Election Board chair before the start of fall quarter, as per the council’s bylaws.
Shagun Kabra, the newly-appointed chair and a third-year mathematics/economics student, will have the kind of time other Election Board chairs could only dream of, with both fall and winter quarters to plan the spring election. Last year’s chair, Anthony Padilla, was appointed in late January, giving him very little time to work seriously on improving elections.
But if Kabra does not focus on making long-term institutional changes to elections, that extra time will have been wasted.
Kabra said he will not focus on making changes to the Election Code “unless and until absolutely necessary,” preferring to direct his energy toward increasing voter turnout and making elections more positive.
But after the events of the past several years – not to mention the Election Code controversy of recent weeks – the need to take a closer look at the code couldn’t be clearer.
Last spring, Bruins United candidates were sanctioned for turning in inaccurate expense reports for their campaigns, an offense that could have disqualified them from the race. That potential disqualification arose because of $300 to $400 in bagels that wasn’t reported on time due to a simple misunderstanding of the Election Code, the Bruins United campaign manager Joseph Hassine told The Bruin at the time. Rewriting and simplifying the code to make it clearer could prevent misunderstandings like this in the future.
Much more alarming is the gap in the code recently revealed when student regent-designate Avi Oved was accused of not appropriately reporting contributions to his campaign when he ran for internal vice president in 2013. To everyone’s seeming surprise, Oved did not in fact report contributions to his campaign – but neither does anyone else. The Election Code neither requires nor provides an avenue for candidates to do so.
After that controversy, this board argued that the code should be modified to ensure that all candidates disclose campaign contributions so that all students are aware of who is funding what campaigns. With all the time he has between now and the spring election, it’s entirely feasible for Kabra to make these kinds of lasting, long-term changes to the code.
Kabra did say that he’s open to making changes to the code and that he’d like to get input from the student body about what kinds of changes they’d like to see. Kabra has the right idea about soliciting input and learning from the fall special election, and he seems eager to make a positive impact. But if he does not direct at least some of his energy toward refining the code, he’ll be squandering all the time he’s been given to do that.