Editor’s Note: To complement TBAW’s recent Head Steward Interviews and our impending Portfolio Stewards Profiles, we thought that it would be a good idea to share an article written by Logan Ye for Convergence that suggests possible reforms for the Steward Election Process. We are interested in fostering dialogue on this important topic, so feel free to contribute your responses and comments below.
Steward Election Reform: Can We Do Better?
Steward elections are upon us, and it’s time to consider the role student government plays in the quality of the UCC environment. Strong student government and rich extra-curricular activities are what differentiate a great school from a good one.
Convergence took the most common complaints and now we’re offering our solutions. What do you think?
Steward elections become popularity contests
At first, this doesn’t seem to inherently be a problem; it’s fine that people are voting for people they are comfortable with and trust. The actual issue is that students are lazy, and don’t have a reason to read and consider declarations. A possible solution is to remove names completely from the preliminary voting process, and have people vote directly on declaration A, B, C, etc. Haiku would also need a streamlined way to view declarations without having to download them all individually or all in one large PDF file.
Of course, this would only work for the preliminary ballot, as platforms would be easily recognizable after speeches. It’s also possible that there would be ways to work around the anonymity granted by the declaration-only voting procedure, or that voting rates will drop. Given these problems, it’s still better than the status quo.
Another possible solution is to allow each candidate to film a 15-second bit, and play these videos on the TVs near the front foyer, cycling through all the candidates. This might allow people to select a couple candidates they are interested in, and perhaps consider reading their declaration in full. Again, not perfect, but perhaps better than the status quo.
The Preliminary Ballot Doesn’t Work
With over 26 candidates running for head steward, a first-past-the-post voting system (where everyone has a set number of votes and the top three with the most votes move on) may not actually be representative of what people want. First of all, people are unlikely to vote for candidates who are unlikely to be elected, even if they do think they are the best candidates for them. Secondly, the final three candidates aren’t necessarily (and often aren’t) preferred by a majority of voters, just by the largest minorities. The solution is to have a ranked ballot. Instead of voting for candidates directly, voters would be able to rank their candidates from most desirable to least (stopping on the list wherever they no longer hold a preference for one of the remaining candidates over another). The intricacies of the system are hard to explain succinctly, but it allows us to take into account everyone’s actual desires, instead of just their first or second choice (Google CGP Grey Alternative Voting if you want a thorough explanation of the process). This process seems tedious, but wouldn’t actually be that difficult given the technology we have available to us. If cities with millions of people can do it, UCC can do it.
Steward Roles are Unclear and Meaningless
Only very specific steward roles have clear jobs that when completed, affect the student body in an obvious way. For example, the social steward plans all the dances that go on at UCC, it’s very obvious whether or not he is doing a good job. Beyond that and a few other roles, the general student body only knows that stewards; make videos for large events, read announcements during assembly, and do a lot of behind the scenes “stuff.” This is not to undermine what stewards do, as I am sure there is actually a lot of work that goes on that the student body cannot directly attribute to an individual steward.
The truth is we need to have clear obligations for each steward beyond fluffy constitutional jargon. This would allow candidates to propose specific solutions to address problems that pertain to their responsibilities and be held accountable to them. We need a better system that makes it more obvious to voters which candidate has actual concrete plans. Does anyone really know what the community service or sustainability steward have done in the past year?
Some other questions also worth asking:
- Should Y1’s and IB2’s be allowed to vote?
- Should we allow more campaigning in general?
- If all else fails, are we okay with Stewards being largely symbolic?
- Are the LD lines actually any shorter?
Lucas Manucha pointed out a revealing flaw in all the Head Steward candidates’ platforms during Monday’s Q&A period. He asked the candidates to describe what flaws they see in UCC, and what they have already done to address it. No candidate could properly answer the question. Manucha is really asking “why haven’t you already been trying to get these ideas if they are so brilliant and you care so much?” Stewardship doesn’t actually confer a ton of power (especially if the improvement would have been widely accepted anyways). We’re not willing to admit it, but we are all, at least in part, not just motivated by altruism, but the prestige and recognition of the position.
Stewards can either represent UCC, or they can be what changes UCC. Perhaps right now they do too much of the former, and too little of the latter. It’s up to us as voters to advocate for a better system and demand more from our leaders.