The current Student Government Association (SGA) Elections Code for electing presidents and executive vice presidents is ambiguous and illogical. Last year, it led to a confusing election ballot on which people voted for SGA president and executive vice president twice — once together as a ticket and once separately. Although the need to fix these logistical challenges is unanimously agreed upon in student government, the best solution is not. Two important questions emerged from the introduction of Bill 51sl40, which proposes banning joint candidacy. First, should the president and vice president be elected together or separately? Second, if candidates are voted for separately, should they be allowed to campaign together? In SGA’s recent discussions on how to fix this problem, an ideological divide has emerged.
One camp advocates for joint campaigning and joint candidacy, a system reflected in the U.S. presidential race. Under this arrangement, candidates for president and executive vice president campaign together and run on the same ticket. Another perspective supports independent candidacy, in which the president and executive vice president run separately. Examples of independent candidacy include the presidential and vice presidential races for College Council and Oxford College SGA.
Emory’s needs will best be met under a system of independent candidacy and independent campaigns. Candidates for SGA president and vice president should run separately, on their own platforms. Permitting individuals to run without a running mate allows more students to run for office, increases equity within student governance and prevents unnecessary tension between candidates.
One of the biggest problems with elected leadership on Emory’s campus is a shortage of candidates. In the last Spring election cycle, 17 out of 28 elected student positions were uncontested across all of Emory’s schools. Even the SGA executive vice president position, the second-highest-ranking SGA position, was uncontested.
As election competition is a foundational pillar for functional democratic leadership, the trend of candidates running unopposed is detrimental to the student experience at Emory for multiple reasons. First, the shortage of options in candidates for elected student leadership deprives students of the right to choose a candidate who best fits their interests. Secondly, the lack of competitiveness allows candidates to win on weak platforms. Given the benefit of more students running for office, we should not create unnecessary barriers, such as requiring a running mate, in order to compete with joint ticket candidates.
In addition to being a barrier to competitive elections, a joint candidacy system favors students who are already a part of student government. SGA members have more connections, enabling them to identify a qualified running mate more easily than students who have not served on SGA. Thus, a joint candidacy election privileges students already involved in student government, resulting in a system skewed in favor of the status quo.
Another proposal would allow candidates to campaign together or endorse one another, but be listed separately on the ballot. The rationale behind this idea is to allow students who want a running mate to have one without excluding individual candidates from consideration. But this system would still advantage students already involved in SGA. Individuals campaigning with a running mate would have an obvious advantage over individuals running independently in terms of the number of voters they can reach with their campaign. This system could also lead to unnecessary tension between presidential candidates and executive vice presidential candidates. Electing two individuals who ran on opposing campaigns each other could facilitate an uncomfortable dynamic between the president and vice president that can easily be avoided by banning both joint campaigning and endorsements.
An independent candidacy system is the best way forward for SGA elections. Establishing a joint candidacy system that privileges students that already have connections in SGA is undemocratic. Creating a hybrid out of both systems renders similar inequities. The best path for Emory’s future is to have candidates run independently — both on the ballot and in their campaigns.
SGA will discuss Bill 51sl40 Feb. 19 in AMUC Room 235 at 7 p.m. SGA meetings are open to all undergraduate students, and student input is welcomed.
SGA Sophomore Representative Johnna Gadomski is a College sophomore from San Francisco, Calif. The opinions expressed are solely her own and do not reflect the stance of SGA as an organization.