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Candidates Open Election Season

By Brian Rosenberg
Contributing Editor

Almost 40 students formally declared their intention to seek an Undergraduate Association office last week, kicking off an election that may see the advent of electronic voting.

This year's elections are also notable because students will choose four of the 16 members of the UA Finance Board, the first time FinBoard members will be selected in a general election.

This year's election will be held on March 10.

Only two teams are running for the UA presidency and vice-presidency, down from the four teams that ran last year. Anthony R. G. Gastelum '95 and Zohar Sachs '96 will compete with Hans C. Godfrey '93 and Anne S. Tsao '94 for the UA's top spots.

Four candidates -- Edward M. Drozd '95, Bridget M. Hanser '95, Mike H. Joo '95, and Umit E. Kumcouglu '94 -- are running for the four available FinBoard positions.

No one registered for several class officer positions, and several others had only one candidate file before last Friday's deadline, according to Rohit Sharma '96, UA election commissioner. As a result, Sharma and the rest of the election commission decided to extend the filing deadline for those offices until this Friday, Feb. 25.

"We hope people will pick up candidates' packets when they find out that certain offices are open," Sharma said. He noted that the Class of 1993 was particularly lacking in candidates, with only one candidate running for class president and no candidates for any of the other positions.

That candidate, Reshma P. Patel '93, ascribed the lack of candidates to the busy schedules many seniors have at this time of year. "Many seniors are running out of town and interviewing and stuff, while others don't know where they'll be next year or what their plans are, so they're reluctant to take on the responsibility," she said.

UAP/VP teams sketch platforms

The two UAP/VP teams have very distinct ideas about the shape the UA should take and what issues it should grapple with in the coming year.

"The point of our candidacy is that over the years, the UA has become not just irrelevant to most students, but a completely self-absorbed, insular body. ... We'd like to break up the clique that has developed in the UA," Gastelum said.

"We'd like to change the UA so that it actually works as a channel of communication between students and administrators and would actually serve to advocate students' interests," he said.

Both Gastelum and running mate Sachs pointed to examples of what they see as the administration "taking the undergraduates for granted."

"When MIT sees `inherent cultural value' in commons-style dining and won't let ARA make a sensible business decision as a result, then students' needs aren't being considered," he said.

Sachs gave another example: the expansion of entering classes in the past few years. "It seems like MIT is using over-enrollment to generate extra tuition money to pay off its deficit, which means they're sacrificing our undergraduate education to pay the deficit. This specific example doesn't worry me as much as the idea that the school is willing to sacrifice the undergraduates if there's trouble," she said.

Tsao said she and Godfrey hope to focus on a few key issues if they are elected. These include a proposal to begin the fall semester before Labor Day and the many repercussions that could result if this proposal is approved.

"There will be many problems with housing and [Residence/Orientation Week] if the calendar changes. For example, many people in the administration seem to be pushing to make the Institute a non-Greek school, and by pushing R/O to second semester, they may push borderline houses that are already having difficulties over the edge."

Tsao also said that restructuring of the General Institute Requirements may be debated later in the year. "Hans and I have already established a working relationship with many of the people who will be implementing these changes, which makes it easier to communicate on these sorts of issues."

Tsao questioned the qualifications of Gastellum and Sachs. "I don't think they could adequately represent student opinion because they haven't been active on campus. I don't want to be represented by someone who doesn't know what's going on," she said.

"We need an aggressive UAP/VP team who will not be afraid to stand up and tell the faculty that the undergraduates think a certain way about a certain issue," Tsao said.

The two teams will participate in a debate Sunday, March 7, according to Sharma. The debate's format is still being worked out, he said.

Electronic voting possible

Sharma said the election commission was working with Dean for Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs Arthur C. Smith to develop an electronic voting system. "We hope to increase turnout by making it more convenient for people to vote," he said.

"It's sort of at the experimental level -- if we get it in place, the votes will be used to determine the outcome of the election, but we want to be safe about the extent to which we use this system," he added.

Smith said the system was not complete and that if it had not been tested before March 1, electronic voting would not be available this year. If not, he said his office will work to make the service available next year.

"As I understand it, it would be possible for people to identify themselves and cast their votes through Athena. This would happen a day or two before the normal election date, and on election day, paper ballots would be available," he said.

Electronic voting would happen before normal balloting because it's too difficult to keep track of both at the same time, he added.

"We'd like to see if the convenience will improve turnout or if the apathy is ingrained and deliberate," Smith said.

Most candidates agreed that electronic voting was a good idea. A few expressed reservations, however.

Electronic voting is "a pretty good idea -- but one negative is that students might not pay as much attention when they vote -- if they don't have the candidates' statements in front of them like they do at the balloting stations, they might not think about the issues before they vote," said FinBoard candidate Joo.

"I don't think will make that big a difference. People will still have to figure out how to vote when they're at their terminal, so they'll have to expend some effort either way. I don't see a lot of students deciding to vote just because it might be a little easier, though it would be great if they did," said Sachs. "It might be easy to mess with the balloting."

Both Sharma and Smith expressed concern over the possibility that the system would make it easier for the election's results to be compromised. "There are issues of making sure people vote only once, that people are who they say they are, and that accurate records are kept," Smith said.

"One concern is that someone at MIT would like to hack it in some way, but it's not intended to be a challenge to anybody," he added.

Sharma said the system may be expanded in the future if it works out well.