This lunchmeat election was a farce

If “ham sandwich” had been a choice on the ballot, hungry students would have voted for it.

by John Hoff

If the people in charge of the recent student government election have a shred of decency, they will hold the Minnesota Student Association election again.

The election results as of Friday are not to be believed and are the ugly result of shameful anti-democratic actions such as sandwiches and cola openly traded for votes. Computer problems plagued the election and it seems likely some votes were lost. In light of such a razor-thin margin of victory between Olson and Olson, having the MSA election again is the only way to assure democracy instead of a farce.

Graduate students still have until 5 p.m. today to pull off a miracle and produce a victory for democracy, which is the same as a victory for Network/FDR’s corpse. If you are a graduate student, you should avoid undependable online voting in the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly election and, instead, get yourself to 126 Coffman and demand a paper ballot, so you can jam through a write-in protest vote.

Writing publicly on the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs Listserv, one student said that in twenty years of working with student governance either as a student or staff person, she has yet to see an instance where the All-Campus Elections Commission doesn’t “screw it up royally.”

In a second e-mail, she explained, “It’s not just the online voting, they messed up paper ballots for years, as well. And interpreted rules incorrectly, eliminating candidates and referendums unfairly. During the paper era there were election site workers telling people who to vote for. For years they could never get the filter set correctly and graduate/professional students were able to vote for the undergrad president.”

In this election, students who were eligible to vote were told, by the online system, that no elections were available. It is doubtful all or even most of those students tried again. First of all, students were spurred to vote by a mass e-mail from Vice Provost Jerry Rinehart, containing a convenient link. But when problems materialized, no subsequent mass e-mail went out informing students to try again. Students were forced to depend on an article in this publication for that information. The same article quoted a student who voted because, “I’m not going to lie: it’s the free food set up over here.”

If “ham sandwich” had been a choice on the ballot, these painfully honest and hungry students would have cast votes for “ham sandwich.” (To be fair, other possible candidates include turkey, beef and veggie, as well as a cold refreshing beverage platform.)

This desperate attempt to trade food for votes was part of a ploy to make these elections appear more popular and legitimate. If you believe the results, it didn’t work. Voter turnout declined this year. But I saw one of those “vote for sandwiches” rallies, and I don’t believe these results. Yup, those sandwiches were pretty popular. It seems more likely votes were lost, and that number of lost votes is greater than the margin between Olson and Olson.

Some students (like me) who e-mailed the elections commission about voting problems received an e-mail about an hour and a half before the polls closed Wednesday. By dumb luck, I checked my e-mail in time and rushed to 126 Coffman, just a couple hundred yards away. I had been thwarted from voting for Network in the online voting, so I was forced to cast a protest vote for hoffx106, the only X.500 number I know off the top of my head.

But at 7:41 p.m. on Wednesday, moments before the polls closed, I miraculously managed to cast a paper ballot with a vote for Network in the GAPSA election, pleading in a written notation to substitute this ballot for my online vote.

Even in national elections, protest votes are cast for None of the Above, for cartoon characters or beloved pets. It is a legitimate democratic act to perform one’s duty to vote, but to refuse the choices presented.

I should make it clear that by the low and cheesy standards of a student government election, Olson/Skattum are probably the best merely mortal candidates. I think they truly deserve to come in a distant second to Network/FDR’s corpse. Their constant sidewalk chalking bordered on obsession and their Web site is funnier.

However, if Olson/Skattum are going to actually assume office under these undemocratic circumstances, then they are nothing but usurpers and pretenders. They possess no majority and have no authority.

Write-in MSA candidates Griffin/Patti have the most to gripe about. It seems likely some of these voting incentives were calculated to draw uninformed voters who would not be knowledgeable about a write-in and would meekly choose from the all-you-can-stomach Olson buffet. I am opposed to Griffin/Patti, but were they cheated? Absolutely.

The write-in vote data can’t be trusted, but lunchmeat-based incentives aimed to draw uninformed voters in an election featuring a high profile, controversial write-in platform are much more troubling. (OK, to be fair, there was one veggie-based incentive.)

Such incentives were not limited to the MSA election. In an e-mail on the Humphrey Listserv, GAPSA presidential candidate Santiago Merea said, “If I win I will probably e-mail you later today or tomorrow about a party! So, there you have another excuse to vote for me. Ö”

The Goddess of Democracy weeps. Only Network and the corpse of FDR are blameless and beyond reproach in this electoral comedy of errors.

John Hoff welcomes comments at [email protected]