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UA Election Reform Overdue

This year’s Undergraduate Association elections have once again suffered from poor oversight and the appearance of impropriety. Loopholes in election rules, lax restrictions on campaign financing, and the inability of the UA’s Judicial Board to act impartially all mar this year’s elections. The Tech would not be surprised if this year’s election meets the same fate as the 1998 election and is forced to be re-run.

Under current rules, candidates who commit an election violation receive demerit points, and those who receive seven points are disqualified. Violations include placing more than one poster per board, postering over other current MIT posters, and e-mailing lists of which the candidate is not a member.

Sunday night, UA Election Commission Chair Zhelinrentice L. Scott ’00 announced that all candidates running for all UA positions had to remove all posters from main campus within 24 hours. Candidates were forced to waste precious time and energy scouring campus to remove posters from newly prohibited areas.

The Tech believes the Election Commission should have anticipated problems with its election rules and taken appropriate action to insure a smooth election process. Anyone with a stapler and a motive has the opportunity to wreak havoc on the election.

E-mail is another area of concern. Current policies allow candidates to post campaign material to any list of which they are a member. Enterprising candidates may add themselves to any public list and therefore gain legal access to thousands of undergraduates. While no trouble has surfaced regarding e-mail this year, it is only a matter of time before history repeats itself: UA presidential candidate Paul T. Oppold ’99 was accused of spamming two years ago -- one of the charges that nullified the original election that year.

Another problem with the election rules this year is the over $500 cap in personal funds candidates may use for their campaigns. This amount is too much, and candidates with more disposable income have an obvious advantage. We believe the cap should be lowered significantly and that candidates should be reimbursed for their funds.

Yet another serious ethical issue in this election is the refusal of UA presidential candidate Chris D. Smith ’01 to take a leave of absence from his position as JudBoard chairman. The Judboard chairman is a powerful position in the council -- in fact, JudBoard presides and decides over all conflicts between candidates. Two years ago, a problem with JudBoard was at the forefront of the election process. Although Smith has agreed to not preside over cases involving the election, he retains the power to choose his replacement, thus retaining his influence.

After a scandal-plagued election two years ago, this newspaper reminded the UA that “if [it] wants to be a useful and effective organization on campus, it must earn the trust of students.” Unfortunately, questions swirling about this year’s election compel us to give this advice again and urge strong reforms of UA election rules.