Election Team Institutes New Initiatives

Elections week, the candidates, the campaigns, and the voting all bring to campus a great deal of excitement, and working behind the scenes of to make the whole process run as smoothly as possible is the ASSU Elections Commission.  This year, ASSU elections are under the guidance of Elections Commissioner Quinn Slack ’11, Assistant Commissioner for Undergraduate Elections Cotis Mitchell ‘12, and Assistant Commissioner for Graduate Elections Mary Van der Hoven, a graduate student in the School of Earth Sciences.  In a recent interview, Slack, a computer science major, and Mitchell, a chemical engineering major, explained their role as commissioners in addition to discussing elections week, managing petitions, and improving voter awareness.

**The Review: ** What skills have you brought to your respective positions as Elections Commissioners?

**Slack: ** I think Cotis and I both bring an engineering mindset to this position.  There are a lot of processes that we’re required to follow by the Senate and GSC that are laid down in the joint by-laws, and I think that we’ve broken them down to the best of our ability.  We’ve helped groups get through them and satisfy their constitutional requirements for getting on the ballot.  Time management is something and getting things done far ahead of the deadline is good for groups so that there is less uncertainty.  I feel like I’ve applied my programming skills.  This job is kind of fun for me because it’s a site everyone at Stanford has to use, so I have a guaranteed user base for something I create.

**The Review: ** What have you done over the past few months to prepare for elections?

**Slack: ** There are about 135 things on the ballot, about 90 of them have had to petition in some way, and so, beginning last May, we had to start sending out petition policies and start planning the petition process.  Over the summer, we did a lot of research about policy and learning the joint by-laws and the Constitution, which is absolutely massive.

We provided a lot more information to students who were signing special fee petitions than in past years.  That was just going through their budget and making sure that the line items made sense, formatting it so that people could see it, coming up with our own comparison tables so that students could take a glance at the info and hopefully understand it better.  That was additional work that we put on ourselves to help educate students.

**The Review: ** What would each of you say are your primary responsibilities?

Slack: There are the defined responsibilities in the joint by-laws, and then there’s how it actually works out in practice.  Cotis can talk about how he sees it, but the way I see it is that on the undergrad side, we’re pretty much spilt as far as decision making.  For the processes that take up a lot of our time, we split these as well.

I put the special fee petitions online, but Cotis did more of the petition verification.  He’s been dealing more with undergrad election events that are coming up and with presenting elections policy and so on.  I’ve been working more with ballot implementation and the website and the paper ballot.

**Mitchell: ** My main responsibility has been working to improve undergrad awareness of the elections, and that’s something we’re trying to do with the polling stations right now.  I’m trying to set those up all around campus to hopefully reach more undergrads and let them know the importance of the elections.

The Review: Is undergraduate awareness a problem?

**Mitchell: ** Compared to grads, no.  We still feel that the more people we can get to understand elections, the better the elections process will be overall.  So, it’s still worth the effort to get more undergraduate awareness and turnout.

**Slack: ** I think that Cotis is right and that we’ve made a distinction between education and pure ‘get out the vote.’ I think that our role is in education not in bribing students to vote or doing whatever we can to increase the voter turnout.  We’ve therefore seen this whole elections process much more broadly.  The education we did in special fee petitions has nothing to do with voter turnout, but it does have to do with educating more students.  In the end it’s up to students to decide if they want to actually vote, but I think we’ve given them all of the information.

**The Review: **What are the most important changes to the elections process this year, as compared to last.

**Slack: ** I think there are a lot.  I don’t know what the most important change will be, but I’ll just tell you about a bunch of important changes.  We’ve made it so that a candidate can campaign during voting.  Previously, that was part of the voluntary Fair Campaign system, so it was never prohibited and it has always been within a candidate’s right to free speech.  We eliminated the voluntary Fair Campaign system because we thought that it actually accomplished the opposite of what students wanted.  So now, candidates will be able to actually campaign during voting, which is the way every other election works at every other level.  I think that will make it more vibrant.

We have the voter guide site, which will available to students from spring break until they actually vote.  The same information will actually be on the ballot on a sidebar for students to see, so that, even if they haven’t been paying attention to ASSU elections for the last year, they can still see the info and will have the opportunity to make an educated vote.

We put a lot more info online for special fee petitions, which is a huge change from last year.  We’re increasing public financing that’s available to all candidates.  That’s a conscious decision on our part that the candidates themselves have the knowledge and incentives to spend the Elections Commission marketing budget better than we could.

The Review: Let’s talk about money.  Where does the Elections Commission’s money come from and was there more money available to the Commission this year versus other years?

**Slack: ** The money comes from a surcharge on special and general fees.  The Elections Commission budget is collected each year directly from students, and we’re very conscious of the fact that we’re using student money, unlike the Senate and other bodies, which receive money from the ASSU endowment.

When we get the final number of candidates and the final amount of public financing we’ll need, the final amount that it will cost to run the polling stations, then we will have quite a bit of money left over.  Some of that money, we will use to increase the amount of public financing available to candidates.  I think that money directly benefits students, and it’s their money, so it should.  I see some money going completely unused in our budget this year.

**The Review: ** What has been the most difficult part of your job this year?

**Mitchell: **Trying to get back to people as soon as possible, and also trying to work with administrators on these polling stations has been hard.  Trying to get in contact with people who are running dining halls all day or something like that is difficult, so I have to be a lot more persistent.

**Slack: ** There are obviously a lot of things that take up a lot of time and logistical things, but I think the hardest part is just working for government and knowing that the decision we have to make affect a lot of other people who are required to operate by the decisions we make.  We have a huge responsibility first to the students, but also to candidates and student groups.  To fulfill that responsibility, it takes a ton of work to explain what we’re doing to everyone who’s involved, to get their feedback, to incorporate suggestions, and so on.

The Review: Do you anticipate a smooth elections process?

Mitchell: Of course.

Slack: We’ve laid the groundwork for a smooth elections process.  I think it depends on how you define smooth.  There are a lot of important issues, and, if we have vehement debate over important issues, that’s a great thing — that’s exactly what we want.  These issues do matter to students, and so, to me, a smooth election will be one in which voters feel that they have been educated.  That’s how I would define smooth, and, after having defined smooth, yes, I would anticipate a smooth election.

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