MSA passes resolution allowing candidate endorsement on ballots

JP Leider

By jp leider

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While the idea of political endorsements for nonpartisan positions is not new, it has been a consistent and hotly debated reality at the University.

For years, the Minnesota Student Association, a nonpartisan organization, has allowed candidates to list endorsements from student groups – both partisan and nonpartisan – on ballots of the spring all-campus elections.

At Tuesday’s Forum meeting, members put the issue to rest for now, passing a resolution allowing endorsements solely as part of a candidate’s statement, which will now appear next to the candidate’s name on the ballot.

In previous years, voters have had to click a link to a separate page for candidate statements, which were separate from endorsements.

The resolution’s relatively quiet approval might have come as a surprise to those familiar with the issue. In both the 2005 and 2006 academic year, resolutions aiming to remove endorsements from the ballot were passionately debated and eventually defeated.

Opponents of endorsements in past years have argued that including endorsements on ballots oversimplifies the voting process and does not encourage students to become educated about candidates and issues.

Proponents of endorsements, such as former University DFL president and current MSA President Max Page, have argued endorsements are a tool that can be utilized by voters should they choose. The U-DFL consistently has elected its slate of endorsed candidates to Forum.

Resolution author Nathan Wanderman said many Forum members viewed political endorsements guiding voter decisions in nonpartisan elections as “not appropriate.”

“I’m a Democrat, so I’m not against Democrats getting elected, but it seemed it was a really big disadvantage for people who didn’t have the U-DFL nomination to get elected even if they were qualified,” he said.

Wanderman said including endorsements in the existing 50-word statement was a natural fit.

U-DFL President and Forum member Noah Seligman said the criticism of U-DFL endorsements in MSA elections is understandable because the group is so successful.

“Our slate gets elected, but I think it has to do with the fact that we take interest in MSA when 90 percent of the student body doesn’t,” he said. “That’s not the student’s fault, that’s MSA’s fault.”

Seligman, a former member of the Student Services Fees Committee and a former Minnesota Daily sports reporter, said he wants to see more student groups involved with MSA and elections.

During the fees process, Seligman said he was “blown away” by the potential for positive impact he saw in student groups.

Though allegations of partisanship in University student government have been a mainstay in past years, the issue is not just a local one.

Dennis Donovan, national organizer for public achievement at the University’s Center for Democracy and Citizenship, said in his experience, partisanship in student government across the nation is common.

“It’s a similar situation where student governments are mirroring federal or state government in how they think about doing politics,” he said.

Members in past Forums have argued altering endorsements could affect voter turnout, but Donovan said endorsements make little difference.

“The people are going to vote for you if they feel a sense of engagement on campus,” he said. “If you are somebody that is running for office who understands that and is going to give that message and people believe you, that’s going to turn out more people than any type of endorsement.”

Page said MSA should now be able to address more valuable issues and have more significant discussions.

“I hope this issue has been laid to rest and we can now deal with the big, important issues on campus,” he said.