Editorial: ACEC should reform policies, increase transparency

by Daily Editorial Board

The All-Campus Election Commission is tasked with the responsibility of ensuring a democratic transition of power between student body governments at the University of Minnesota. To accomplish this task, the ACEC hosts a number of student body leadership elections and votes on key issues facing the student body annually. 

This year, the election process demonstrated key gaps in logistics and management. While some deficiencies were specific to this year, the mismanagement of this year’s election process demonstrates fundamental issues with procedures in place ensuring fair elections.

In 2018, the all-campus elections saw a substantial decline in undergraduate voter turnout — nearly 33 percent — ending a decade-long improvement in voter turnout. While the ACEC cannot be held solely responsible for low-voter numbers, it still could be a symptom of the badly run election. Since the debate was delayed and the referendum was passed with little time before the vote, many students felt disengaged with the process. Furthermore, with just over 10 attendees, the MSA debate hosted by the ACEC demonstrated a clear lack of advertising and planning. While the low number of candidates abetted the late announcement in slashing attendance, the lack of effort on behalf of ACEC cannot be ignored. 

Several problems occurred while handling the referendum mechanism in this year’s election. The proposed UMN divestment referendum, proposed by various groups like Students for Justice in Palestine, was added to the ballot only slightly before the ballot went live. We expressed in an earlier editorial that this short term addition of the referendum question offered too little time for meaningful discussion about the topic at hand, and the voters did not have enough time to learn about the referendum. Additionally, the ACEC excluded professional students from voting on the referendum due to policy that stated the student group or organization proposing the referendum could choose who votes. After outcry from the general public, the ACEC walked back this policy and afforded PSG students the right to vote on the referendum. Clearly, there is a discrepancy in policy and the wants of the public.

There are three substantial reforms the ACEC must perform in order to improve the election process. 

First, they must improve their threshold for transparency. During any normal election process, there are many internal documents that are made public, including policy proposals and information about how internal decisions are made. While the average student may not read these documents, it’s important for the ACEC to provide them for transparency. Additionally, many groups complained about not being able to speak with ACEC leaders during the election process.

Second, there must be a change in policy about referendums. While it may be permissible to allow groups to select the audience of their referendum, there ought to be an internal evaluation of these audience requests. A referendum that affects the whole campus should not be allowed to apply to a subset of the student body. Furthermore, the text and the wording of each referendum should be released weeks in advance, giving the opportunity for substantive debates throughout campus. The failure to provide this platform for dialogue is a failure to promote basic democratic procedures. 

Finally, the ACEC should re-evaluate their timing. Debates should be announced several weeks in advance to allow the candidates more time to prepare and the opportunity for more people to attend.

The ACEC must change aspects of the election process to ensure that the bias of mismanagement does not affect the results. If the ACEC takes its vital function on campus with enthusiasm, lackluster attendance and turnout are simple facts of an election. However, given all the problems with this year’s election process, the deficiencies are too hard to ignore. We hope they heed our recommendation and adopt a policy that maximizes student engagement and fairness in the election process.