Posted by: | October 4, 2008 | 19 Comments

So lots of students societies finished their fall voting today, and I thought that it might be interesting to look at how elections are run. Being a Science student, and a SUS Council member for the past 2 years, I can at least comment on the way that SUS campaigns are run, and I would imagine that there are lots of similarities between SUS, AUS, EUS, etc. societies (although I could be fully wrong on this point). So let’s take a brief look.

Visiting the SUS website, and looking at all of the candidates, it seems like everyone is essentially focused on the same thing- they’re dedicated, passionate about SUS, they want to represent students. The things I’ve found severely lacking, however, are the actual plans that students have. The way I see it, everyone runs the same campaign every year- so I always wonder, how exactly are people supposed to decide? It seems to me that this sort of system perpetuates voting based on popularity and personality rather than any sort of credentials or something that might be even better- some sort of plans for what they want to accomplish. This is something that’s painfully lacking- most campaigns include vapid promises about getting students ‘in touch’ and representing students at Council. It would all be great, if it weren’t for the fact that year upon year students promise to do these things, and year after year, it’s still a problem. I think it’s getting better, but I still propose that candidates be asked to propose at least one concrete plan each time they run, and actually outline in concrete terms one thing they would like to accomplish, and how. Sure, it requires a little bit more work and more thought, and it might not always be something that’s carried out, but I think this solution provides us with two things:
1.) It allows voters to distinguish between those they’re electing, and vote on something more concrete than sense of humor or physical appearance of the candidates
2.) It actually forces the candidate to think about the position, what they’re doing, and makes them more accountable- people can always ask how the project is going, or can think back to the previous campaign and ask what’s been done.

I realize that lots of people run for Society positions to put something on their resume- but what exactly do most people do on when elected? There are certainly lots of very dedicated members, who help run events, who regularly sit on committees and actually do things. But there are also many who skip out on meetings, who don’t come to any committee meetings, who I never see around during office hours, etc. So it seems like there needs to be some actual accountability- there’s always a Code in place that enables people to be kicked off Council- but how often is the Code used? And why are people so afraid to point out to others that they’re not doing their jobs? In an organization that’s supposed to help students, it would certainly make people take the positions seriously. Yes, it might be harsh, and yes, I do realize that this is a volunteer position, but when a person volunteers at some organization, do they promise to do things and then don’t deliver? Do they bother showing up for their shifts? Why should a Council position be any different, then, from any other volunteer job?

This isn’t to say that there aren’t always some excellent candidates who don’t have a platform or any concrete plans- there certainly are. And there are certainly lots more people getting involved with SUS due to things like our Frosh program, which have been great at recruiting students to help with SUS events. However, I think that it might be best to look at how elections are actually run, and see if we can make student societies even better.


19 Comments so far

  1. Sonja on October 4, 2008 11:35 pm

    I think the first-year reps deserve to be cut some slack, because this is their first year, and campaigning (and student politicking) is as much of a learning experience for them as it is a contribution to campus life. I think it’s a bit unreasonable to expect that someone could fully comprehend the potential scope of their work as an undergrad society rep after barely spending a month at UBC. It irks me to no end, however, to see substance-less campaigns run by upper-year students, and even more so when they run for executive positions. (this is usually more apparent in Spring Elections)

  2. Maria_Jogova on October 4, 2008 11:49 pm

    Definitely- but I think that even first years can have some sort of plan about what they’d like to see. Even having no experience, they are aware of some problems, or they want to do some things (there are lots who promise to improve contact between SUS and students)- my wish is to see them talk about at least one thing that they would do to achieve that, be it setting up suggestion boxes, holding a monthly meeting that we advertise in Ladha at which we could talk about major developments over the past month, etc. I think I just want to see voting based on something more than personality or enthusiasm, or looks- all of which are very nebulous things, and not necessarily indicative of whether they will fulfill promises or not.

  3. Blake Frederick on October 5, 2008 1:25 am

    Most candidates that I see running want to get elected so that they can get involved and informed. Some one should inform them that you don’t need to be elected in order to be involved. In fact, being informed on the relevant issues should be a necessary qualification before one considers running for a position of substance.

  4. Sonja on October 5, 2008 1:59 am

    But I think one’s personality has huge potential to shape one’s work. For example, I think that being a good team player is key; no matter how good someone’s ideas are, if they can’t function well as part of a group, their potential for getting things done is diminished. I think it’s unlikely that one’s personality can be thoroughly evaluated from campaigning materials, but I still do think it plays a significant part in shaping how productive they will be during their term.

    Blake: Amen!! I’ve been trying to communicate this to people in first year. Some folks get almost offended by the inference that they – gasp – might not get a seat on Council. I’ve seen far more qualified candidates lose elections before, and still make great contributions, and so I don’t understand why people get so uppity about this. Then again, I was probably not much better in first year. Anyway.

    I do disagree with your idea that being informed should be a prerequisite for being involved. It seems that at UBC, being well-versed in the issues surrounding student life go hand-in-hand with being jaded and cynical about the state of student affairs, and this usually makes such people not very productive. This is just an empirical observation I’ve made, and of course there are exceptions. (case study Michael Duncan)

    I think that people coming from backgrounds where they might have had similar experiences to student government at UBC (high school or wherever), bring fresh ideas and, most importantly, fresh attitudes. If there are problems, say within the AMS, I think it’s more likely that they will be addressed by someone bringing new ideas, than someone who is well-acquainted with, and probably helped shape, previous strategies (which haven’t worked). If they’re not informed already, they’ll learn. I would argue that a quick-learning enthusiastic person would likely get more done in a year than someone who has been around forever and has had all traces of inspiration sucked right out of them.

  5. Alex Lougheed on October 5, 2008 8:42 pm

    Here’s a related question: Why run elections with a voter turnout of ~7 people in some cases?

    SUS and the AUS run in to the problems of having too many elections, mostly for positions inconsequential to your average student. Why do these councils needs to be 40 people large, when a fair number of their duties and the decisions they make need not be made by those elected? It disillusions the electorate in to thinking their vote has no consequence, and voters on campus already see little incentive to cast their ballots (see: turnouts). Eliminate or make positions without significant decision making authority non-elected, and you’ll end up saving a lot of students’ time and might actually see an increase in participation and activity.

    The CUS does not face this problem (exception: president position), and it’s too early to see how the EUS’s new framework pans out.

  6. Eden Hart on October 6, 2008 4:37 pm

    Alex, while I agree with you in principle, I believe there is a problem that may arise out of this. While certainly the people who really do want to be involved in these organizations in the end will, it does nothing to encourage the average student. People coming out of their shell and attempting to try out new things (who are valuable because of their fresh perspectives) are partially sold by the fact that they will get some sort of credit for their work (be it college, scholarship or employment resume). Of course, the flip-side is that it will also weed out those people who are solely there to pad their resume, but it is an issue that you have to keep in the back of your mind.

    As for Blake’s point of rewarding those who have already participated with a position is a sound one. Problem is, what I have seen, is that newcomers actually get the nod over those involved during in-council by-elections, which is completely non-conducive to encouraging people with the line: “Get involved, we’ll find you a position later”. Maybe if this issue was addressed in a discussion in council, then your idea would have a more solid ground to stand on.

  7. David on October 6, 2008 5:00 pm

    Why do you expect more from first year university students running for a small position on a volunteer group than you do from federal politicians? It makes complete sense to run on the basis of your personality and experience rather than your plans, as the overwhelming majority of people with plans for those positions have no idea how to implement their ideas or the thirty reasons their plan hasn’t been used by someone else previously.

    I would agree that most of the senior positions on AUS/SUS etc. should be campaigned on for more than personal popularity, but at the same time, that can be important to those groups. When the majority of the activities undertaken by these groups are consultation or events – the visibility (read: often popularity) of those involved results in more people attending and more people knowing who they can go to in order to offer their opinion.

    All the plans in the world are useless if you are incapable of running them because you have no people skills or leadership ability.

  8. Green Machine on October 6, 2008 5:20 pm


    I understand why you think that candidates should be informed and have strong solid platform(or a “plan”), however I am scared that this may dissuade people from running for positions, and (in AUS elections at least), there are too many “yes/no”s on the ballot already.
    Also, I know quite a few people who didn’t have well formed platforms, or solid “plans” when they ran, but since being elected have become very active/informed. Some of our best councilors weren’t the most informed when running, and in turn brought a fresh perspective to their rolls.
    PS Eden Hart!? I haven’t heard from you since Steph Ryan graduated.
    PPS I think students should only have one day to vote. I honestly think it would increase turn out. But thats just me.

  9. Eden Hart on October 6, 2008 7:53 pm

    I took a much needed summer vacation, and while Steph Ryan moved onto bigger and better things, I remain to continue what I had started last year.

  10. Maria_Jogova on October 6, 2008 10:04 pm

    I’m not saying that personality isn’t important- I just don’t think that it should be the only thing that a person’s vote is based on- especially since I have yet to see an unenthusiastic candidate blurb. And I think some of you may not completely understand what I mean by “plan”- I don’t mean earth-shattering things, or some 36 page long platform outlining all the things they want to do. I’d just like to see one idea (for instance- suggestion boxes! not hard to to, and really easy to implement). I’d like to see that candidates have put some thought into running. I think that personality is important to the extent of people being able to work with others, or being motivated, but I don’t think that the best person on any council is necessarily the one who is really loud and likes to cheer for everything. And I think that it’s incorrect to vote solely based on popularity, although that just seems to be reality.

  11. Jacob Cosman on October 7, 2008 1:32 am

    Seeing as every poster or blog post for SUS campaigns have to be run through the Elections Committee, it’s difficult to make any promises or guarantees, since the committee uses its broad imagined power to veto any policy it deems unfeasible or an endorsement of another candidate or Council member’s platform.

    Loosen up the ridiculous restrictions, and SUS elections would produce a lot more substantive promises. (Voter turnout would still fail to hit 1%, though.)

  12. Sonja on October 7, 2008 3:32 am

    Alex: could you please elaborate on what you mean by “non-elected”? Do you mean appointed by the executive, going by the CUS model? I fail to see how this would encourage greater student participation. I think this would encourage hackery more than anything. Also, I echo Eden’s point about having a position that one can flaunt on a resume encourages people to get involved, and I think that eliminating positions would eliminate all but the most dedicated. Which might not be a bad thing in and of itself, come to think of it, but the organization might start running into some serious manpower issues unless it developed an efficient way for recruiting casual volunteers.

    Jake, for your info, voter turnout was 7.7% (although probably not the same across all departments and for all positions)

  13. Alex Lougheed on October 7, 2008 9:59 am

    Sure Sonja.

    I'll refer you to the (albeit, rather incomplete) data collected from the SUS survey I conducted during my term.

    Survey takers were given three options to rank to their willingness to participate in elections, interviews and casual volunteer work. Willingness for interviews was greater than elections, and casual volunteer work was far greater than elections.

    It's hard to run in an election. There's a huge investment cost in learning the electoral rules, there's a lot of time one has to spend campaigning, and heck, not everyone wants to blow up their name over 76pt on 11 by 17. Everyone posting here is unique in our willingness to allow that.

    Elections are not the only way to get one a resume bullet. Look at the CUS. Chairperson of a multimillion dollar conference -/-> Ran in an election.

    It's ultimately up to the constituencies to decide how their work is divided and workforce is selected. In my experience, people are more willing to contribute if they feel personally responsible for the consequences of their contributions (or lack thereof). When I say cut out people, I mean cut out deadweight. Amalgamate committees in to individuals or pairs of individuals who will feel responsible if things fail. Then I think you'll start to see things getting done not only quicker, but better, and student organizations will be able to expand their programing and services.

    A good comparison would be to compare all the constituency social committees on the following metrics, scaled to budget: their events per annum, their successes per annum, their risks per annum and their group morale. Compare those who rank well with their committee management structure. Overall I think the CUS would win this one, and they're appointed top down.

  14. Charles Menzies on October 8, 2008 1:27 pm

    There are another set of elections to take note of -local elections.

    (1) Board of Education Elections for School Trustees (there will be an all candidate forum at the Old Barn Community Centre on campus Oct. 22 at 7:30. Every eligible voter (a resident of this area for at least 30 days, a resident of BC, and a canadadian citizen can vote -that would include most UBC students living on campus.

    (2) Metro Vancouver Electoral Area A (this is the unincorporated areas of the Greater Vancouver Regional District which includes UBC. There is no formal voters list, voters who meet the criteria in #1 above can vote by declaration at the polls.

    I’m running for the Director position, see http://votemenzies.blogspot.com or look for my facebook group page:


    Charles Menzies

  15. Sonja on October 8, 2008 5:36 pm

    Alex: thanks for taking the time to elaborate further on your argument. I like your ideas, and I’ll type up a proper response once this clusterf* of a week is over.

    Charles: Shameless self-promotion much?

  16. Charles Menzies on October 9, 2008 5:02 am

    Hopefully not shameless. Ben West of the Greens and Matthew Naylor (UBC Student) are also running in this election.

  17. Sonja on October 9, 2008 5:49 am

    But have Ben West and Matt Naylor been advertising their names on totally unrelated discussion threads? ;-)

    I’m just saying.

  18. Blake Frederick on October 9, 2008 6:51 am

    On the shameless promotion issue, look for an analysis of the Electoral District A candidates on this blog and a debate organized by the AMS.

  19. Steve on October 19, 2008 2:30 pm

    self promotion at least might introduce us to the issues involved with politics.

    unless there is a diehard neo-Left activist who considers politicians to be antithema to the cause – then the objections will resound…

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