This past week saw Undergraduate Student Government election campaigning in full swing. Senatorial candidates participated in a meet-and-greet with the student body, and presidential candidates discussed diversity and inclusion at a second forum event. And throughout these events, there has been the chaotic buzz characteristic of all campaign seasons.
Balancing class and other commitments with election-related business is a challenge for candidates, campaign teams, USG election and communications officials and the student journalists who report on the elections to give the student body a fair, accurate image of events. Naturally, perfect communication and adherence to protocol is challenging, as everyone involved in student body elections is also a full-time student. But nonetheless, students have the right to transparency and the accurate, timely presentation of information from student government in order to make informed decisions.
So far this campaign season, USG has struggled to meet its own guidelines and standards for transparency.
Last Monday, the Debbie & Blake presidential ticket accused the Mai & Brianna presidential ticket of misconduct regarding the creation of a campaign graphic at a hearing. Yet, the elections committee failed to release a transcript of the hearing to the public “as soon as a verdict” was “reached,” as elections code XIII.D mandates.
The delayed release was attributed to “unforeseen circumstances and technical difficulties,” and a week later, the released transcript was notably edited. Many parts had been removed from the original transcript without explanation.
In the updated transcript, more than 50 percent of comments made by the Mai & Brianna ticket as it responded to accusations were partially or fully excluded in the original transcript. Twenty-five percent of the Debbie & Blake ticket’s comments were partially or fully excluded. Some comments made by the Elections Commission were partially or fully excluded, as well.
According to both presidential candidates, the Elections and Recruitment team had failed to notify them about changes made to the transcript.
The Daily Trojan repeatedly reached out to USG for comment on why portions of the transcript had been removed, but neither the USG Elections and Recruitment Team nor USG’s director of communications responded to multiple requests for comment. USG did not decline to comment, but instead ignored media requests and did not offer a date to expect a response. It appeared no effort was made to meet student media halfway in answering such important questions as why the transcript had been heavily modified.
It is worth noting that USG’s Election Commission and Recruitment team, as well as its communications director, are paid positions, reinforcing the importance of their service and adequate completion of their governing duties. Those who fill these positions are awarded stipends to complete the tasks required of them, such as, in the case of the communications director, answering questions and working with student media.
Of course, the burden for lack of transparency and accountability for student government does not fall on media. Rather, it falls on members of the student body who are left in the dark about how the student government and its elections committee are handling the election, and about dialogue between the presidential tickets that undergraduate voters will be choosing between.
Lack of cooperation from USG is preventing media outlets like the Daily Trojan from providing voters the complete facts they need to make an informed decision come the election days. The student body deserves better.
Given that the two presidential tickets share similar platform points and leadership experiences, the race will likely be a competitive one. This makes complete information and transparency about hearings and USG committee decisions all the more important.
The decisions USG makes regarding the election, from how the Elections team decides to hold hearings to address some complaints and not others, to why hearing transcripts are edited and excerpted, must be public information. Decisions affecting the election are decisions that affect all undergraduate students.
As previously noted, USG comprises full-time students who show respectable initiative just by balancing the responsibilities of student government positions with all of their other academic commitments. But one of these responsibilities must be communication with student media and, through student media, the student body. Those who choose to get involved with student government, particularly within the Elections team and communication branches, must be especially prepared to communicate come elections season, a time when the student body needs and deserves full transparency ahead of making a crucial decision.
Daily Trojan spring 2018 Editorial Board