September 22, 2011

Campus Campaign Reform

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It may have seemed like a gimmick, but Peter Scelfo’s ’15 strategy to dress as “Buddy the Elf” for the entirety of his two-week campaign for Freshman-at-Large representative earned him a spot on the Student Assembly.

It was a strong victory. Scelfo won with 819 votes, while the leading vote-getter in last year’s freshman race won with only 383. In 2009, that number was 468. From 2008 back to 2005, no one won with more than 375 votes, with the leading vote-getters twice in that time span earning less than 300 votes.

Scelfo’s campaign was certainly positive from a publicity standpoint for the Student Assembly. His “elf costume” became a fixture around campus and raised attention around the student governing body and the race. The three other freshmen elected to at-large seats each turned in strong performances of their own, with Ross Gitlin ’15, Don Muir ’15 and E.J. Yeterian ’15 earning 673, 552 and 331 votes respectively.

Yet Scelfo’s campaign — and victory — continued a recent trend in campus elections away from the issues and toward theatrics. Flashy campaign videos, Facebook groups and, now, even costumes have become the featured aspects in successful student campaigns. Name recognition matters above all else. While this has generated more interest in student elections, it has also reduced their legitimacy.

The Student Assembly is not an unimportant voice for students on campus. It represents the student body in meetings with administrators on issues that have important ramifications for the campus and generates initiatives that impact students. Voting for its representatives should not be taken lightly.

Candidates ultimately respond to voters. As long as students continue to vote for the more theatrical campaigns, these campaigns will continue to be successful and could escalate even more towards the absurd.

It’s up to voters to put the emphasis on what a candidate can bring to the table, not what they will wear to it.

Editor’s Note: Ross Gitlin ’15 is the brother of Ben Gitlin ’12, The Sun’s editor in chief.